Iain Dale on Fixed Terms

ourKingdom editors
15 May 2008

Iain Dale (London, blogger): In a modern democratic state we ought to believe that power should be transferred from the few to the many. Nowhere is this more important than the system used to decide when elections should be held. In local councils, the Scottish parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the European Parliament we have instituted fixed terms to decide when elections should be held. Only for Westminster elections do we still allow one person – the most powerful politician in the country: the Prime Minister - to determine the date of an election. Should we therefore be surprised when the Prime Minister skews that decision according to when he or she thinks an election can best be won? Of course not. Politicians are only human. Well, kind of. It astonishes me constantly that normally sensible minded people still believe the power to call an election should still be in one person’s hands. It’s as if they want to hark back to the days when a sovereign made all the decisions and the ‘little people’ were expected to implement them.

There are, of course, many variants to the concept of Fixed Terms. The very phrase is in itself a bit of a misnomer in that it must still be possible in a parliamentary (as opposed to a presidential) system for an election to be held within a fixed four or five year term. There are several ways in which this could be achieved. A vote of no confidence is perhaps the most obvious as in Germany. Ah, opponents cry, but a government could engineer its own MPs to vote against it, thereby making the whole concept of a fixed term rather redundant. Factually that may be true, but imagine the electoral consequences if that happened. The opposition would make hay out of it.

David Howarth is to be congratulated for his Bill and for sparking further debate. Ideally, all parties would sit down together and thrash this out, but I don’t expect it to happen. There are too many vested interested in the two main parties for them to want to take this issue seriously in the short term. This is a campaign which will have to be fought over several years if it is to achieve success.

OurKingdom is supporting the Campaign for Fixed Term Parliaments along with Iain Dale, Stephen Tall and Unlock Democracy. Here Iain interviews David Howarth on his Bill:

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