26 May 2009

Fixed Terms are evil!!1!!1!

Lot of news about Cameron's new proposals today, the Mail were unpredictably gushing

I don't need to explain my view on Cameron - he's an opportunist jumping on the reform bandwagon, but we will get little real reform from him - as the old saying goes: 'turkeys don't vote for Christmas'

I instead wish to debate the finer points of reform, as Paul Waugh points out, the Tories are a bit lukewarm on the idea - saying fixed terms are worth looking at, but also saying that it would mean we couldn't get rid of Gordon Brown or campaign that he didn't have a mandate

Now, I'm going to ignore the fact that as fixed terms should be four years, Gordo would already be facing an election

But Cameron is also missing a major point - does he really think we could just 'swap' Prime Ministers with a fixed term system? We can now because the rules are non-existent and it's all very 'House of Commons' - picking a suitable minister from the ranks is ridiculously outdated, as shown by the public contempt for the situation we are now in

So a change would surely be accompanied by the tightening up of the rules - if you are elected for a fixed term you are obliged to serve that - obviously we can exempt health matters and such, but Blair simply walked, seemingly for the hell of it, after promising a full third term - that is an unacceptable situation

Can you imagine Barack Obama deciding he would quit one year in, then spending a year 'on tour', as it were? - No, because he can't - only in exceptional circumstances

Also note that this implies all Cameron would do, or even contemplate doing, is changing the process from being 'there must be an election within five years', to 'there must be an election at xxxx date' - he doesn't seem to consider the party reselecting a Prime Minister for itself mid-term, you look deep enough and you can see just how shallow Cameron's plans are, the House of Commons remains largely untouched, all that is removed is the present government's advantage of timing - it is a piecemeal offering

Instead, if a Prime Minister does decide to resign, it should trigger an election - while I used America as my example, we are not America, we do not have an elected head of state/government - but as Blair's resignation shows, we effectively have such a situation in the public mind, it's all very confusing and British

But there is no need for us to stick rigidly to four years - the American situation is very different, the fact is we can take a far more realistic approach - what Blair did is uncommon, it's happened twice in thirty years, or once in nearly twenty years, and you can't expect many Prime Ministers would simply quit before they even got halfway - evidence in most countries shows that they tend to know the rules and intend to serve the full term, the only reason Blair and Labour did it was because they could

They could bizarrely rip-off the electorate and change leader after two years simply because the system allows them to - if we changed the situation then 1) it wouldn't have happened in the first place and 2) we would've got our election

You see how Cameron spins? The situation barely changes in Parliament, but he gets his 'reform' to win over the public

There is an argument that being able to call an election at different times is better for government, it prevents lame ducks as it were - but in reality would it be any different? Brown is a lame duck and is clinging on to the very last minute - when was the last time we didn't use the conventional four (or longer) years? It was 1974 if you're interested, and that fact has to be weighed against the fact that most countries accept the system and we'd be removing a massive advantage that is given to the incumbent government

Like I say, a fixed term isn't perfect - but it's better than a government manipulating us, and I would love to see an example in modern British history where it has proved beneficial to the public to allow the government to set the date at their own convenience? Tie that in with the fact that if a government is defeated over a major bill (i.e. a supply bill), an election can be called - likewise if the governing party really feel the need to stab their leader, who is the de facto head of state, in the back, we should get an election - see how often it would happen then....

That, to me would be a better system than even the Americans have


  1. Fixed term. Doesn't appeal to me either.

    A Government could hit a crisis like we've currently got at any time during its period of office. If it happens six months in, there's a real problem if we've elected them for a fixed-term. There's got to be a democratic way of forcing a change of Government at any time during the course of a Parliament, but it shouldn't be something that is too easily exercised if fuelled by a media-driven whim or witch-hunt.

    I'd prefer that a change of Government could only be forced in exceptional circumstances, but there is a right and proper constitutional way of doing it...

  2. That's a fairly eternal question - no political system is perfect

    As Brown has shown - he's happy to continue to five years, beyond the conventional four, so one would assume he would happily wait out a fixed term - I see no difference

    As I pointed out, it's very rare that a government reach such a crisis that they need to call an election - it's only happened with minority governments so I don't see the harm - it would *in theory* be harder to oust Brown, but the reality is much the same - we could have a few circumstances that warrant an early dissolution - like if the PM resigns, or a supply bill is defeated