A fixed-term parliament fix

As David Cornock has noted, the next Westminster election is now scheduled for 7 May 2015 ... the very same day as the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament elections.

Whatever else the Tories and LibDems are, they're not so stupid as to have not realized it, and are bound to try and justify the coincidence on the grounds that it will increase turnout and therefore as something which is good for democracy.

But applying the same logic, that means we should hold our referendum on primary lawmaking powers on 5 May 2011, the same day as the Assembly elections, for that will increase turnout in the same way. But no, the LibDems and the Tories in particular have been dead set against that idea, because they say it will confuse the voters; even though the more obvious reason is that it will split their party to have half campaigning for one thing, and half for something else, while at the same time trying to be united around their election manifesto. Nice to see the first manifestation of double standards.


To me, this is more than an innocent oversight, there is a more sinister agenda. The LibDems got to be in this position of power by virtue of an equal amount of exposure in the televised leaders debates. They will of course expect the same treatment again. So in 2015 the UK media will provide saturation coverage of what to 85% of the UK will be only one election (though there'll be a selection of council elections too) drowning out not only the voices of Plaid Cymru and the SNP on UK-wide issues, but any debate from all parties on the different issues that apply to the Senedd and Scottish Parliament.

The only conclusion to be drawn is that the Tories and the LibDems want to squeeze out Plaid and the SNP in the 2015 elections to the devolved legislatures as well as to Westminster. This is a complete perversion of the democratic ideal of fixed-term parliaments. It is nothing but a blatant attempt to prevent democracy operating as it should.


But if the Tories and LibDems get away with this (for I have no doubt that the Electoral Commission will condemn them for it and try and get things changed) there is still a way that the Assembly and Scottish Parliament can get round it. We can call the elections up to six months early—for November 2014—with the next one held as usual in May 2019. But the circumstances are limited, for it requires a two-thirds majority in the Senedd, and the stitch up by the ConDems will suit Labour every bit as much as it does them for exactly the same reasons.

It's far from ideal, for nobody really wants a winter election with a lower turnout due to bad weather and dark evenings ... and canvassing will be a nightmare. The ideal situation would be for Westminster to have four year parliaments on a cycle that doesn't clash with the elections in Wales and Scotland.

Bookmark and Share


Cibwr said...

Agreed, I was surprised that a 5 year term was chosen, just about everyone I knew who had commented on this in the past had assumed a 4 year cycle. I can see no good democratic reason for doing this. We have had local government elections delayed before now and generally I would agree with separating voting for different bodies on the same day. It can only lead to confusion and worse. No this is a stitch up, a reminder that we are all in the union and that the National Assembly and Scottish Parliaments are subservient to Westminster. It fits with the Tory Agenda, what on earth were the Lib Dems thinking of?

Cibwr said...

Oh and while we are at it, why create a 55% threshold for votes of confidence in the government? That just runs counter to my understanding of democracy.

Anonymous said...

MH - You must read my mind - I was looking at the fixed dates, and I quickly realised that they had adopted a 5 year cycle so as to avoid being junior to the EU which is also on a 5 year cycle, and these two could never therefore clash.

But to hold a UK election on the same day as WA & SP elections would be disatstrous for Plaid and the SNP as they will be drowned out by UK issues as this election has so categorically demonstrated.

So I agree - the easiest way is to bring forward the WA & SP election dates (only for yers where there is a clash) but I would suggest to March not November. Not only is the weather and daylight better (or should be) but it has more chance of leaving the memories of Plaid & SNP in the voters minds in the run up to the UK election


Anonymous said...

It also shows how little understanding there is of Devolution and devolved matters relationing to Wales there is in the Conservative and Lib Dem parties (not that Labour were any better), and how little influence Welsh MP's from both parties have on this new Government.

But I guess we already knew that after Cheryl Gillan's appointment yesterday and the lack of consultation with his Welsh colleagues before Vince Cable announced plans to scrap the St Athan defense project a few months back.

MH said...

I think nearly everybody who has proposed fixed term parliaments has proposed that they should be on a four year cycle. But even though that is what I would like to see too, a five year fixed term is still better than giving the Prime Minister of the day the ability to call a snap election at the drop of a hat.

And yes, the fact that the European Parliament is on a five year cycle does give a certain logic to a similar five year cycle for Westminster, so that the two don't clash. But if that is so, the most logical thing would be to extend the term of the Senedd and Scottish Parliaments to five years as well. If it's important that one clash is avoided, then that must apply across the board.


I'm tempted by Pen's suggestion on holding the 2015 Welsh and Scottish elections a couple of months before a Westminster election. If the electoral cycles didn't change then it would be fine as a one-off for 2015. My hesitation would be that this Westminster election has been simmering in the media for months, although with uncertainty about the exact day. If the date of the next Westminster election is fixed, would we get to a situation such as that in America where the campaigning seems to last for a whole year? Even if not for a year, the media and parties will be gearing up for several months, and therefore having our elections only two months before will tend to make them part of the Westminster campaign.

If I had my way, I'd keep the Welsh and Scottish four year cycles, but make special arrangements for the Welsh and Scottish elections to be held in September or October (either before or after) when they would otherwise clash. The reason I said November before was that six months is the maximum period allowed in the current legislation (GoWA 2006, Pt1.5.5) but it would be fairly simple to amend this with the new legislation.


As for the 55% threshold, Cibwr, that's a lot less than the 67% threshold for the Assembly. Another example of double standards. And of course it still needs to be clarified whether this is 55% of those voting, or 55% of the House as a whole.

I see the point of a threshold, in that if what would otherwise be a vote of confidence fails, it gives time for negotiations. It means that the government of the day has effectively got to admit defeat rather than simply be defeated. But the downside is that it allows for more brinkmanship. The government will "give it a go" on contentious votes—rather than making sure of its majority beforehand by making its proposal less contentious—knowing that it would always have a second, or third, chance. So it in fact runs counter to consensual politics and encourages more adversarial politics.

I think a 67% threshold is therefore much too high. If there is to be a threshold it should be as little over 50% of those voting as possible. But I think the threshold is probably a bad idea; it's good for the government of the day, but not for the legislature. Even though the way we elect Westminster stinks, the current procedures Westminster has are not all bad, and the way we handle confidence votes is probably about right as it is.


CoP, agree completely. I can understand that the Tories don't "get" devolution ... but for a party which claims to want a federal UK, it is remarkable that the LibDems don't get it either.

Cibwr said...

My take on it is that any government must have the confidence of the House of Commons. I would have a threshold of 50% +1 vote of those that vote to defeat the government in a vote of confidence. Then you would have a 3 month period for an alternative government to win a majority in a vote of confidence otherwise you would have an automatic dissolution. Dissolutions could be gained earlier if supported by 66% of the vote of the House of Commons. I'd also consider the constructive vote of no confidence that they have in the Federal Republic of Germany where an alternative government is voted in as the old government is voted out.

Unknown said...

I'm a little bit dizzy from considering all the combinations and permutations that could be had here, actually! Why not co-ordinate ALL the elections, including the European election on the same day? - UKIP to gain a lot of MPS, I think!

The coalition, in my view, is unlikely to last 5 years in any case. Too many egos, tribal thinkers, and potential coalition shattering issues!

Plaid and the SNP should start NOW by pointing out the total iniquity of the settlement arrived at by the English parties!

Anonymous said...

Siónyn - the government will last 5 years, the LD will do everything to stay in power if only for the reason that 5 years give the economic cycle enough time to revive.

This is a deliberate policy by the Tories and LD to make the Welsh and Scottish elections as English/British as possible. I think it will be bad news for Labour as i think they'll lose the next UK election.

If it goes ahead it's a travesty of democracy. PC and SNP can demand that every single election debate includes them. But this just throws up the nonsense of the idea as you'll have a possible debate on education and health with three different ministers from three different parties and three different executives. It wouldn't make sense.

I thought the LD were for local democracy. Obviously not, as we see in Ceredigion it really incluces the British vote hostile to different Welsh aspirations.


Post a Comment