Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Good Argument for Fixed Term Parliaments

This is one of the best arguments for fixed term parliaments I have read - it's from LibDem MP Lynne Featherstone.
It’s 80 minutes into an Arsenal-Tottenham football derby. Tottenham lead 1-0.
Arsenal are piling on the pressure. The Tottenham manager shouts at the ref,
“OK, that’s it – can we have the final score now please?” The ref agrees, all
the players troop off the pitch 10 minutes early and Tottenham get the three
points. Sounds absurd doesn’t it (and I don’t just mean the idea of Tottenham
beating Arsenal!)? But that’s what passes for normal in the world of Palace of
Westminster politics when it comes to general election dates. The Prime Minister
– and the Prime Minister alone – gets to choose the date. Now – in theory
Parliaments last for five years and the monarch has to agree to any earlier
election, but in practice – the PM always gets his or her way.

Join the Campaign for Fixed Term Parliaments Facebook Group HERE.


Anonymous said...

While I generally consider fixed-term parliaments (of four years!) a good idea... I'm left with a problem.

What to do in a hung parliament situation? Do we really want coalition? (Which is never democratic, the minor parties always hold too much sway). How could we get around '74 with fixed term parliaments?

Anonymous said...

Iain - I know this is a subject you feel strongly about, so a sensible and logical question.

Would a fixed term Parliament due to end every 5th year in May finish "early" in December (with every corresponding election therefore shuffling forward) if a Prime Minister loses his office by means of resignation (Bliar) or losing a vote of no confidence (Disraeli, Gladstone, MacDonald etc etc)

Would there be an interim election? Or would a Parliament be longer to keep the time-line 'on track'?

It's a nice idea to give the Chartists the last of their demands (although that was fixed 1 year terms), but I can't help thinking that the idea hasn't been completely thought through.

Iain Dale said...

Geoff, you ask a fair question. I favour a system similar to the German one where they have a fixed five year term unless the government loses a vote of no confidence. You can even have a constructive vote of no confidence whereby the government's own MPs vote against their own government to provoke a general election. At least parliament has spoken and not just the PM.

So although you have a nominal fixed term, you can still in theory have an election before the term is up if Parliament says so.

Anonymous said...

Iain, if I might ask a question which is wholly irrelevant to this post, do you have any views on the "London United" adverts appearing on your blog? Do you endorse them, or are you just in it for the money? :)

Iain Dale said...

Asquith, as I said on another thread, I wasn't asked if I wanted these sdverts on my blog. I could veto them, but that wouldn't be a very liberal approach, would it?

I am fully in favour of a third runway at Heathrow. If this campaign wishes to advertise on my blog and wish to give me money, I am happy to take it.

There are of course campaigns which I would not accept money from. And I will know them when I see them!

I may do a post about this, as it seems to be causing controversy.

Anonymous said...

I thought this site was a Tory site, so how come the ad under the main article is for the Lib Dem Mayoral candidate?

Something you want to tell us?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I didn't read the relevant comment page. Though I do actually read most of them, to familiarise myself with all your visitors.

Are people queuing up to advertise on your blog, then? I should imagine it's a better place to advertise than many, since it has a high number of visitors. Though certain types probably wouldn't get a warm welcome from the majority of readers :)

Jeremy Jacobs said...

Al, there'd be another election.

The German idea sounds good but what in the future constitutes a vote of "No Confidence"? Shouldn't we have one now on the Pensions scandal, wastage in the NHS?

AndyR said...

You're looking at this from entirely the wrong angle, but it is forgiveable since you are immersed in the 'political game'.

The government represents the people. Therefore the primary concern is not what is fair to one party or another, or what is in the interests of a 'good game', but what is fair to the people.

Is it your argument that allowing the people to make decisions about their government more frequently is somehow less democratic?

Can you cite a specific example, in politics rather than by analogy, where the people were poorly served by an early election?

We should be wary of any reform proposals that might take us down a more technocratic path, and bog down our system with a self-serving, continental-style bureaucracy.

Richard Gadsden said...

People poorly served by an early election:

1966, when Labour called an early election only because they would win and because they had (legitimate) concerns that the economy would be a mess.

1951, when Labour decided to give up rather than renewing in office.

..and by a late election in 1997, when a discredited, exhausted government kept going for one more year more because they could than for any legitimate or democratic reason.

Anonymous said...

The football analogy is a poor one because stopping a football match implies the win has the same value as a win over 90 minutes, whereas the reality is that by calling an election early a government shortens its te m of office and risks losing.

The problem with fixed terms is that they do not fix the problem of hung parliaments, and the problem with parliamentary votes for a dissolution is that minority parties and the opposition in a hung parliament can vote against a dissolution if they thought an election would improve the position of the largest party.

AloneMan said...

If that's one of the best arguments then God help the rest of them.
The analogy does not hold. The PM cannot know with any certainty that he's going to win an election if he goes to the polls early. This is one of the reasons Brown "bottled it" last autumn; he was ahead in the polls but knew the electorate might punish him if they saw him as being guilty of opportunism. The system worked. It ain't broken.
BTW, why are you carrying ads for Lib Dems on your site ?

strapworld said...

This is all very interesting stuff but as 95%, and rising, of our legislation is made in the EU Parliament, the question we should be asking is WHY do we have a UK Parish Council in addition to all the other levels of administration?

Each country in what was the United Kingdom should have their own Central Council.

The Scots, Irish and Welsh already have theirs so there is just a need for the English to have one.

The Scots, Irish and Welsh have purpose built Central Council Offices so Westminster would do, for the time being, for the English Council.

Preferably such an English Council should have a purpose built Council Chamber built at massive public cost, say in the West Country, so that the English could not lose face by having a cheaper one than the Scots!

Westminster will be needed for the European Union Island Zone HQ, although there will be a need for a large annex to accomodate more people.

As EU legislation is passed by unelected beaurocrats, there will noit be a need, in time, for MEP's to be elected directly to the EU.

As the EU increases in size it will be decided to have one appointee from each (former country) Council, so forming a workable 'executive'
under the leadership, and control, of our glorious Presidento Antonious BLAIR, Conquerer of the Free World, and an ordinary kind of guy to boot. Who in 2009, at his coronation uttered those immortal words 'I promise a referendum'

Anonymous said...

It is not legally possible to have 'fixed-term' parliaments under the current constitutional settlement. Something you ought to know Iain. If you are serious about 'fixed term' parliaments you need to also advocate for a convention to compose a new, codified constitution.

Under the current constitution its not possible.

Ross said...

One benefit of fixed terms that I haven't seen anyone make is that it allows the political parties to have a much more open and democratic selection process. As it stands no party could reasonably introduce something akin to a US primary system for it candidates because the sitting Prime Minister can simply preempt the selection process by calling a snap election.

Anonymous said...

There would have to be a set date for every 4 years, something like the Thursday in the 4th week in May.

Obviously there has to be a way of removing a Government in the mean time, by either a vote of no confidence, a Prime Minister resigning or other means. While a Prime Minister resigning should not really mean a Government falls, in out current political climate the Prime Minister acts like a quasi President, the Prime Minister is the Government.

Were the Government to fall there would be a general election within 3 weeks. The next general election would then be in 4 years or less to the next Thursday in the 4th week in May.

Chris Paul said...

What a facile comparison from the multi-millionairess Lynne Featherstone. The thing about fixed term parliaments is not that they are a bad idea but that many other things in our tradition would also have to be changed radically. As Ministry of Truth blogged last time you went off on this one.

Anonymous said...

We have 4 year fixed terms here in New South Wales in Australia, and they have turned out to be a disaster, in that they let the incompetent socialists maintain government much more easily in that the people can't be bothered to take much interest in kicking them out. The problem is that we know we only have an election every four years and that there is no chance of getting rid of the bunch of incompetent arseholes before then. Then come election time they spend heaps of taxpayers' moey and manage to get elected once again because it is just expected by the voters, even though the voters admit to hating them.

Anonymous said...

Fixed term parliaments were a key demand by the English parliamentary army mutineers in the Putney debates of 1647 . They are a basic part of any democracy and we in England don't have them of course . They wanted 1 year parliaments . I would settle for 4 years .
This entirely reasonable and fair idea was headed off by Cromwell and subsequently by the British establishment every time it has bee raised . It still is . The same old crap is used to deflect it every time . "Not in the constiution " "can't be done "- for some reason unexplained . etc

The real reason is linked to the same reason that they refuse the English a parliament . The British state does not want the English to have democratic government . They want to perpetuate rule by the existing British political class .

Paddy Briggs said...

It's one of those comparitively rare reforms which should have a high degree of cross-party support. I can see no arguments against. The Spurs v Gunners analogy is spot on - especailly as the Spurs all too often concede goals in the last 10 minutes!

Anonymous said...

The football analogy merely shows how desperate advocates of fixed-term parliaments have become. There is no obvious comparison to be made. Football teams compete to win a particular match. Political parties compete for the spoils of election victory. Thereafter the comparison falls apart. What is the football equivalent of a hung parliament? How does a football match cope with some players leaving the pitch or defecting to the other side, or even forming their own minor team? And even in football, there is provision, where a result is required, to play on or have a penalty shoot-out.

Even more desperate is anonymous 11.43: not having fixed-term parliaments maintains rule by the existing political class! Surely the political class will continue to rule regardless of whether parliaments are or are not fixed term.

And let us not forget that we do have a form of fixed-term parliaments in that the maximum life of a parliament is set (for five; seven years until 1911). An unpopular government has no hiding place after five years.

Anonymous said...

If this is one of the best arguments you have heard, Iain, you might need to get out more. In a football match you know the score already; in a general election you don't. Control over the timing of the election by no means guarantees you a win. Pretty silly analogy.