Fixed-term parliaments won’t prevent a second election

This government is unlikely to last until 2015.

I have long been in favour of fixed-term parliaments, as endorsed by our new coalition government, but anyone who claims they will prevent a second election having to take place soon is wrong.

Fixed terms work well in presidential systems such as France and the United States, where the head of state's position is not dependent on the support of the legislature. But in Britain, where the executive and the legislature are merged, the Prime Minister struggles to govern if parliament turns hostile.

Jim Callaghan was forced to hold an election after his government lost a vote of no confidence in 1979. Under the Lib Dem-Tory plan, an "enhanced majority" of 55 per cent of MPs will be required to trigger a dissolution. But it's not hard to imagine the opposition plus the Tory right and the Lib Dem left joining forces to achieve just this.

And it is worth noting that, in Germany, chancellors including Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder have purposely lost votes of no confidence in order to trigger an election at the most convenient moment for the government. Expect this to become a very tempting option if the government runs into trouble (as it will).

Thus, the only way to ensure genuine fixed-term parliaments is to separate the executive fully from the legislature. As a republican, I'm all in favour of this, but I fear it is still just a little too radical for this government.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Donald Trump vs Barack Obama: How the inauguration speeches compared

We compared the two presidents on trade, foreign affairs and climate change – so you (really, really) don't have to.

After watching Donald Trump's inaugural address, what better way to get rid of the last few dregs of hope than by comparing what he said with Barack Obama's address from 2009? 

Both thanked the previous President, with Trump calling the Obamas "magnificent", and pledged to reform Washington, but the comparison ended there. 

Here is what each of them said: 

On American jobs

Obama:

The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift.  And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.  We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.  We'll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost.  We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.  And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.

Trump:

For many decades we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.

One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind.

Obama had a plan for growth. Trump just blames the rest of the world...

On global warming

Obama:

With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

Trump:

On the Middle East:

Obama:

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. 

Trump:

We will re-enforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.

On “greatness”

Obama:

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned.

Trump:

America will start winning again, winning like never before.

 

On trade

Obama:

This is the journey we continue today.  We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth.  Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began.  Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week, or last month, or last year.  Our capacity remains undiminished.  

Trump:

We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our product, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never ever let you down.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland