In the run up to this election there’s a torrent of comment about unpredictability and possible deals. I have even heard people talk about another election shortly after this one. Certainly after the 2010 election many believed that a second election would follow quickly if a suitable deal couldn’t be done.
The most recent example of this is of course back in 1974. It’s this topic that formed the theme of this weekend’s BBC Radio Archive on 4 (7 Feb).
But we are in different territory now as the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (2011) not only tells us exactly when the next election should be, it makes it much, much harder to have one in between.
People from the US and other countries with fixed term elections must have thought us very strange pre 2010. A democracy in which effectively the Prime Minister could load the dice, time the economic tide, call a contest when he or she was already in the lead. As a political activist I remember the Gordon Brown election that never was. Half way through a leaflet delivery, with speculation at fever pitch that the PM was about to go to the Palace, I was phoned to say that Brown had announced there wouldn’t be an early poll. Very much a “calm down” moment. Steve Richards, in Whatever It Takes, paints a dramatic picture of the tensions around the decision on whether to call an election or not. The rest is history, but the point is that he (Brown) had the power.
So are we better off with Fixed Term Parliaments? It’s certainly more democratic if the PM can’t wield that power. And in planning terms, for politicians, business, the media and just about everyone else, knowing exactly when an election will happen must be a good thing. It is also delightful not to have to wade through the acres of ill- informed election date speculation in the press!
But nothing in politics is wholly good!
The US, with its fixed terms has election campaigns that start much earlier than ours. The temptation to “be first” to “go off early” to “get momentum going” means these get longer rather than shorter. In the UK we are experiencing some of this already. The first Monday after the winter break (5 Jan) saw just about every party doing election launches of one sort or another. Is this good? Well it means people have longer to think about issues but I wonder if many aren’t bored already.
And as for that possible snap election after May 7th. Difficult but not impossible. Commentator Mark Pack says look at the manifestos. So we shall.