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Yes, although I would not necessarily want an absolute fix as in the US. In our system it would stack the odds in favour of the incumbent. We all know that now the Govt times the election around circumstances favourable to winning a mandate. Under fixed Parliaments would they not just time the circumstances, and hold up all the juicy announcements until 6 months before polling day.

As far as the Tories are concerned yes I think it is. I think it is especially necessary as we have a whole host of other elections for local councils, mayors, devolved bodies and the European Parliament all of which operate on fixed terms. There is a danger of these clashing in future - indeed there is a likelihood of this and I think this is undesirable as it means the more minor elections are crowded out. Especially when council or European elections are on the same day as a General Election the higher turn out will disproportionately benefit Labour in the more minor polls.

Take Scotland for instance. If you look at all the opposition parties they were concentrating on the Scottish Parliament elections and thus did not select candidates until after those elections. This was perfectly understandable as using regional list members as Westminster candidates can give opposition parties the advantage of having a kind of incumbent fighting the sitting MP. However, because Westminster selections were delayed this would mean our candidates have not had a chance to bed in at all by the time of a General Election. Now if this was 4 years into the term you could say that is the fault of the opposition parties for not selecting earlier but since we are now only 2 years in im not so sure. Thus the lack of a fixed term increases the incumbents advantage in constituency seats especially if the opposition candidate has not had time to bed in.

The other point is that the lack of fixed terms will allow Labour governments to take advantage of rules on seat redistribution as the Boundary Commission are only required to redistrict every 8-12 years rather than say every 2 parliaments. This means that if the commission has reported but the statutory period has not elapsed then Labour could avoid putting the new boundaries into effect and hold the election on the old boundaries to their benefit.

I think you are proberbly right. But I don't expect it to happen. If/when the Conservative party gets back into power, they will want to set the start date just as Gordon will no doubt do soon and just as the Tories did in 1992 and 1997.

There is also the issue of what do you do if a government loses a vote of confidence, or needs to go to the nation for a mandate in a crisis as Heath did in 1974?

I could go for a four-year fixed term parliament: preferably with a "recall" facility as applies in a number of US states, where a sitting MP/Governor can be called to account and a re-election forced if enough of the local electorate raise a petition.

The charge will be that oppositions always complain about the power of governments.

If Malcolm Rifkind wants to back up his complaint, the Conservatives should show they would act differently. Should David Cameron pledge that he would introduce fixed term parliaments? It could be a 'Bank of England' moment which would undercut Brown.

But could he? Would he? If not, its difficult to complain about the current speculation.

Every four years, first Thurday in May. That way everyone knows where they stand. Preferably interspaced between the Scottish/Welsh elections (so 2009, 2013 etc)4 years seems to be the norm anyway since 1979, barring 87-92, understandable as it would have meant Major going to the country in the Spring of 91 after less than 6 months in the job. If Major had the gravitas to hold off so should Gordon.

Surely fixed terms could not work in practice. Just as no one can give an adequate answer to the West Lothian Question that would be workable in parliament, what would happen if a government lost the confidence of the House? The answer is most probably a lame duck government and chaos. Thankfully we do not have a Presidential system and as long as we elect representatives to serve on behalf of the people there is absolutely no need for fixed terms.


4 years

just like that other England ie New England ie the USA decided upon all those years ago .

Those American minds
were essentially English minds .

And they were right.

( and now is a tactically good time to raise the topic!)

Autralia is every 3 years but if the sitting govermnent's policies are rejected twice by the senate then that is the trigger for an earlier election if the government wants a mandate.

I agree. Minimum period of 4 years unless the Government can no longer run the country (i.e. lose a vote no confidence)

There is something not quite right that a governing party can go to the country with years to still to run in the parliament. What do you think?
Maybe switching to allowing MPs to vote on whether there should be an early election with the PM unable to seek a dissolution - the main cause of early elections is minority governments trying to manipulate things to get a majority. In a free vote on the issue many Labour MPs might oppose an election simply on the grounds that they were opposed to unnecessary early elections. Maybe even requiring approval by the Privy Council or even some kind of Commission including Local Authority Representation.

There needs to be some kind of recall system as well whereby a certain proportion or more - set at quite a high level to stop frivolous recalls by those convinced that with enough attempts they could win.

Yes, as was said above - 4 year terms with elections on the first Thursday in May.

It is grossly unfair that the govt. can call an election at any time which suits it. It is essentially undemocratic.

I don't like the idea of removing the power of the Queen to dissolve parliament. I think we could suggest that she simply tell the PM to bugger off if he requests a dissolution for non-routine reasons.

This whole debate is a nonsense while you have the Executive and the Legislature mixed in the way we have. We need separation of powers.

Yes, fixed election dates is something I agree with.
They have them in the US, and France. They are a good idea. There is no reason for Brown to call an election, we are only half way through this Parliament. I think the election should be the first Thursday of May, every five years.

I agree both with those who say fixed terms would not suit our system of votes of confidence etc (imagine being stuck with a hung Parliament for 4 years) AND with what Malcolm Rifkind is saying. [Indeed maybe he reads this blog and has seen my comments over the last week or two - LOL] An election now would be a disgraceful abuse of a legitimate power.

Our system of unwritten checks and balances requires some basic integrity and sense of propriety in those operating the system. It's the same with the discretion to appoint party peers, some of whom will obviously have been party donors if they are strong supporters who have been successful in life. But sadly this crew, Blair followed by Brown, have no idea how to behave in such nuanced areas.

I don't think the Queen could actually refuse a request for a dissolution for long; but it would be perfectly reasonably for her to put the point to him that a dissolution so early in the Parliament might be seen as an abuse, and ask him to come back in a week when he's thought more deeply about the constitutional proprieties. It would also be perfectly reasonable for her to ask why he wanted to have an election before 1 December when the updated register came in. The Palace might then find somehow that Her Majesty's concerns in this regard became "known", although that might hardly be necessary as Brown's people would probably already had spun that he was about to go to the Palace to ask for a Dissolution and there would have been a gaping silence when it didn't happen.

Come to think of it, how do we know that he has not already asked the Queen and she has already told him to come back in a week (but decided to keep it quiet for the moment)? There's a thought.

In point of fact I agree with Sir Malcolm Rifkind to this extent: the Prime Minister must give a reason for requesting a dissolution of Parliament, and Her Majesty is under no obligation to grant a dissolution merely on request.

If a dissolution were requested now because the present Parliament is nearing the end of its statutory term, then that would plainly be incorrect: Parliament is not yet half-way through. Gordon Brown could request a dissolution on the grounds that the change of Prime Minister had led to a substantial change in the approach of the government upon which the electors ought to be consulted, and that would be an appropriate reason.

Incidentally this is exactly what the Conservative Party was demanding in May. It might however create a precedent that the change of Prime Minister in the middle of Parliament normally requires confirmation in a general election, which would be a constitutional novelty.

Certainly we should have 4 year fixed term parliaments at Westminster. It works at Council level so why shouldn't apply to Central Government also?

This is something I was pondering only last weekend.

My personal opinion is that there should be fixed four-year Parliamentary terms and (unless the system should suddenly change) Parliament should be dissolved within 100 days of a governing party changing it's leader.

I'm sorry that I have to disagree with a number of contributors, but fixed-term parliaments are a bad idea.

The British political system is special because it has flexibility not seen in other countries. This flexibility has been key to the stability in Britain over hundreds of years and must be retained!

A speech was made a year or so ago backing the Monarchy's role in Britain and that we would back it. I dont see the need for a fixed-term parliament. We hold elections every 4-5 years anyway, so its hardly like it needs entrenching in statute, which would be difficult to get the Queen to sign.

I support Joshs idea, that the Queen can tell Brown where to get off if he wishes to go to the country early. I wouldnt argue with her if I was Brown...

Fixed-term parliament is the wrong answer to the wrong question.

In a system where there isn't a formal separation of exective and legislature there will always be Feb 1974 results, for which the best solution is to ask the country to have another go at electing a govmt. To deal with those you need 'tiebreaker rules' to permit 'exceptional' early elections, but these can be abused e.g. in Germany where Schroder had to engineer a spoof loss of his majority in order to call an early election.

The solution to the election speculation problem (just as with other government abuse problems) is to have a vigorous and viable opposition which keeps the govmt on its toes. Unpopular govmt = no speculation about early election. Fixed term parliaments would not only create the risk of a lame-duck govmt as the term approached its expiry, but it also creates the moral hazard of a do-nothing opposition at the start of each term.

If they can be shown to work in Commonwealth countries with the Westminster model including the Queen, then I'd be all for them. The present situation is outrageous.

So, can they be so shown?

I hope the Conservatives reform this ridiculous political system when they are elected, but whatever system we have, here is a good idea:

6.0 years max if vote turnout 100%
5.5 years max if vote turnout > 90%
5.0 years max if vote turnout > 80%
4.5 years max if vote turnout > 70%
4.0 years max if vote turnout > 60%
3.5 years max if vote turnout > 50%
3.0 years max if vote turnout > 40%
2.5 years max if vote turnout > 30%
2.0 years max if vote turnout > 20%
1.5 years max if vote turnout > 10%
1.0 year max if vote turnout < 10%

You can play with the figures, but keep the general idea. Less voter turnout equals less time to the next election. That way, it will be in the interests of all politicians to please to the general public and encourage them to vote. If the Conservative party adopted that idea, I think they would get lots more votes at the next election. And it doesn't cost a penny to implement!

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