Five-year fix

Nick Clegg's proposals for 5-year fixed terms will put Britain at odds with most democratic countries. The proposals were not even Lib Dem policy.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Bill passed its second reading last night bringing the House of Commons one step closer to holding general elections just once every five years. The move would put Britain out of step with most democratic countries.

Fixed-term parliaments, which were supported by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats in their election manifestos, are clearly a step forward by removing “an anti-democratic constitutional anachronism” whereby the Prime Minister can choose to call an election at a beneficial moment. But the 5-year length proposed by the Coalition puts Britain at odds with most other democratic countries.

Of 32 countries surveyed by Left Foot Forward, which use fixed-term parliaments, just five have 5-year terms: France, Italy (which in practice holds elections, on average, every 3.5 years), Ireland, Luxembourg, and Cyprus. Twenty-three countries have 4-year terms, three have 3-year terms (including Australia) while the United States holds 2-year terms for the House of Representatives. Professor Robert Hazell, Director of UCL’s constitution unit, has commented:

“a five year term is long by comparison with most other parliamentary systems.”

The 5-year proposal is not even Lib Dem policy. The House of Commons Library’s Research Paper on the Bill reveals that:

“The Liberal Democrats have been committed to introducing fixed-term parliaments for some time. A policy paper agreed at their 2007 party conference argued in favour of four-year fixed-terms…

“On 10 October 2007 a Fixed Term Parliament Bill was introduced by the former Liberal Democrat Member David Howarth, again providing for four year fixed terms.”

In defence, Nick Clegg says that, “Five years is the established period of time” – an odd statement given that a full five year terms has only been held on four occasions since the Second World War: 1959-64, 1987-92, 1992,97, and 2005-10.

Elsewhere the Coalition have been accused of an “abuse of power” for announcing that there would not be a Queen’s Speech until spring 2012. Scottish and Welsh MPs are also concerned that Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections will fall on the same day in 2015 and every subsequent 20 years.

The simple solution is 4-year fixed terms. A proposal bringing Britain into line with democratic best practice and resolving the devolution issue.

22 Responses to “Five-year fix”

  1. paulstpancras

    RT @leftfootfwd: Five-year fix – why Clegg's proposals put Britain out of step with the democratic world http://bit.ly/9XU5j2

  2. Philip Cane

    Amazingly @leftfootfwd point to a simple solution of four year fixed term parliaments http://bit.ly/9XU5j2

  3. Oz

    Technically Australia at a federal level doesn’t have fixed-terms. State and territories have fixed-term elections however which tend to be 4 year terms.

  4. Jordan Hall

    RT @leftfootfwd: Five-year fix – why Clegg's proposals put Britain out of step with the democratic world http://bit.ly/9XU5j2

  5. Melissa Nicole Harry

    RT @leftfootfwd: Five-year fix – why Clegg's proposals put Britain out of step with the democratic world http://bit.ly/9XU5j2

  6. Chris Clothier

    What do you think it should be Will? I have to say that I think it is generally a good thing to allow people to get on and govern for a reasonable length of time rather than having to continuously be on the re-election treadmill. Best Chris

  7. Shamik Das

    Five-year fix – why Clegg's proposals put Britain out of step with the democratic world: http://bit.ly/9XU5j2 by @wdjstraw on @leftfootfwd

  8. Andy Sutherland

    RT @leftfootfwd: Five-year fix – why Clegg's proposals put Britain out of step with the democratic world http://bit.ly/9XU5j2

  9. Oxford Kevin

    RT @leftfootfwd: Five-year fix – why Clegg's proposals put Britain out of step with the democratic world http://bit.ly/9XU5j2

  10. GuyAitchison

    RT @leftfootfwd: Five-year fix http://bit.ly/9XU5j2

  11. jennifer roberts

    RT @leftfootfwd: Five-year fix – why Clegg's proposals put Britain out of step with the democratic world http://bit.ly/9XU5j2

  12. Nicola

    The problem with 4 year fixed terms is that the Scottish and Welsh elections would then always be the following year and might introduce a protest vote in response to effectively how England voted i.e. if we have a UK conservative government and the Conservatives only managed to achieve 16% of the vote & 1MP in Scotland, then Scotland may choose to get away from a Conservative government by voting SNP and for an independence referendum or more may vote Labour in response to the Conservative government and say that the UK government doesn’t have a mandate north of the border.

  13. Will Straw

    Hi Chris,

    I’d say 4-year fixed terms is the simple solution to this. It avoids all the problems and keeps Britain up to date with democratic best practice.

    Cheers,

    Will

  14. Harry Barnes

    The Septennial Act was replaced in 1911 so that parliaments could not last for more than 5 years. Parliaments were, however, extended beyond the 5 year period to accomodate for the two World Wars. But if we exclude these exceptions from our calculations there have been 23 parliaments since 1918 whose average life has been under 3 years 6 months. There is a democratic case for having fixed parliaments of 3 or 4 years, but not for the excessive period of 5 years.

  15. Peter

    Ireland does not have fixed term parliaments. There must be an election at least every five years but the PM (Taoiseach) may also call one (the president must grant this) or, if the gov loses a vote of confidence, the President may order an election or seek a new government. In practice it is exactly like the current British system.

  16. Mr. Sensible

    Nicola, remember that 4 years is what it is for other governments across the UK; scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and local councils.

    I think 4 years is the best fixed term, and I also think the government should ditch all this about a supermajority; in my view, if a government loses a confidence vote, that should be that.

    And on this about Queen’s Speaches, whilst I think it is a good idea that the state opening should be in the spring and all sessions should be equalized, the next Queens Speach should be in Spring 2011, not 2012.

  17. Will Straw

    After last night's Fixed Term Bill defeat in the Lords, the @leftfootfwd archive shows why 5 yrs is a fix http://bit.ly/kXate0

  18. Purbeck Pashmina

    RT @wdjstraw: After last night's Fixed Term Bill defeat in the Lords, the @leftfootfwd archive shows why 5 yrs is a fix http://bit.ly/kXate0

  19. Adam Farrell

    RT @wdjstraw: After last night's Fixed Term Bill defeat in the Lords, the @leftfootfwd archive shows why 5 yrs is a fix http://bit.ly/kXate0

  20. Jordan Newell

    RT @wdjstraw: After last night's Fixed Term Bill defeat in the Lords, the @leftfootfwd archive shows why 5 yrs is a fix http://bit.ly/kXate0

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