Another election? Don't count on it. Photo: Getty
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General election 2015: will there be a second election?

If no one wins on 7 May and Britain returns a hung parliament, could there be a snap second election? Here’s why it’s unlikely.

The Fixed Term Parliaments Act (FTPA) of 2011, which fixes general elections on a five-year cycle, will make it very difficult to call an early election.

There are three ways parliament could do this:

1) The first is by a two-thirds majority of the Commons voting to dissolve parliament and call an early election. But it’s unlikely that it will be in the interest of 67 per cent of the House to go to the polls again. The opposition would have to join the government in support of the motion, and presumably the Prime Minister would only put such a motion to the House because it would be in his interest (therefore presumably not in the opposition’s interest) to go back to the electorate.

2) The second is a vote of no-confidence. If the government loses a no-confidence vote, then 14 days are allowed for an alternative administration to be formed. If an act of confidence in a new government isn’t passed in 14 days, then there would be a second election.

But engineering a no-confidence motion would be difficult. Under the FTPA, the definition of no-confidence votes has been narrowed to exclude Queen’s Speeches and budgets (traditionally considered confidence motions). Whereas there used to be no set formula for no-confidence votes, now the wording would have to be very specific: “That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government”.

It would be very difficult for the government to no-confidence itself to trigger a second election, as the chances are in this scenario that it would be a minority government – and therefore the rest of the House would be able to oppose the motion. (It would be in the opposition’s interest to do so, if the government feels a second election would be to its advantage).

Also, if the rest of the House manages to vote down such a motion, then it may well be able to form an alternative administration within the 14-day window – as parliamentary government expert Philip Cowley puts it, “Why assume no alternative would form? If you are the opposition leader, you would at least try.”

3) The third option is to repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. But this would require a simple majority, and a government would only be seeking to repeal the Act if it hadn’t won a majority. However, some point out that it would favour both Labour and the Tories to be able to call an election at any point – and therefore they might unite in repealing the Act.

But it’s not straightforward. As the Institute for Government's Dr Catherine Haddon explains, the Act wiped out the centuries-old Royal Prerogative to dissolve parliament, so repealing it wouldn’t just automatically revert back to the status quo pre-FTPA. Replacing it with something else would be constitutionally complicated, as whose hands should such a decision be in? If you’re erasing parliament’s power over such a decision, then you’d have to actively legislate for it to be in the hands of the executive, which is a tricky argument to make politically.

Others point out that a clause in the 1978 Interpretation Act could be invoked that means you can return to the status quo ante by repealing a law, if you express your wish to do so. But the Royal Prerogative has never been reinstated before, and constitutional experts are split on the matter.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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An unmatched font of knowledge

Edinburgh’s global reputation as a knowledge economy is rooted in the performance and international outlook of its four universities.

As sociologist-turned US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recognised when asked how to create a world-class city, a strong academic offering is pivotal to any forward-looking, ambitious city. “Build a university,” he said, “and wait 200 years.” He recognised the long-term return such an investment can deliver; how a renowned academic institution can help attract the world. However, in today’s increasingly globalised higher education sector, world-class universities no longer rely on the world coming to come to them – their outlook is increasingly international.

Boasting four world-class universities, Edinburgh not only attracts and retains students from around the world, but also increasingly exports its own distinctively Scottish brand of academic excellence. In fact, 53.9% of the city’s working age population is educated to degree level.

In the most recent QS World University Rankings, the University of Edinburgh was named as the 21st best university in the world, reflecting its reputation for research and teaching. It’s a fact reflected in the latest UK Research Exercise Framework (REF), conducted in 2014, which judged 96% of its academic departments to be producing world-leading research.

Innovation engine

Measured across the UK, annual Gross Value Added (GVA) by University of Edinburgh start-ups contributes more than £164m to the UK economy. In fact, of 262 companies to emerge from the university since the 1960s, 81% remain active today, employing more than 2,700 staff globally. That performance places the University of Edinburgh ahead of institutions such as MIT in terms of the number of start-ups it generates; an innovation hothouse that underlines why one in four graduates remain in Edinburgh and why blue chip brands such as Amazon, IBM and Microsoft all have R&D facilities in the city.

One such spin out making its mark is PureLiFi, founded by Professor Harald Haas to commercialise his groundbreaking research on data transmission using the visible light spectrum. With data transfer speeds 10,000 times faster than radio waves, LiFi not only enables bandwidths of 1 Gigabit/sec but is also far more secure.

Edinburgh’s universities play a pivotal role in the local economy. Through its core operations, knowledge transfer activities and world-class research the University generated £4.9bn in GVA and 44,500 jobs globally, when accounting for international alumni.

With £1.4bn earmarked for estate development over the next 10 years, the University of Edinburgh remains the city’s largest property developer. Its extensive programme of investment includes the soon-to-open Higgs Centre for Innovation. A partnership with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, the new centre will open next year and will supply business incubation support for potential big data and space technology applications, enabling start-ups to realise the commercial potential of applied research in subjects such as particle physics.

It’s a story of innovation that is mirrored across Edinburgh’s academic landscape. Each university has carved its own areas of academic excellence and research expertise, such as the University of Edinburgh’s renowned School of Informatics, ranked among the world’s elite institutions for Computer Science. 

The future of energy

Research conducted into the economic impact of Heriot-Watt University demonstrated that it generates £278m in annual GVA for the Scottish economy and directly supports more than 6,000 jobs.

Set in 380-acres of picturesque parkland, Heriot-Watt University incorporates the Edinburgh Research Park, the first science park of its kind in the UK and now home to more than 40 companies.

Consistently ranked in the top 25% of UK universities, Heriot-Watt University enjoys an increasingly international reputation underpinned by a strong track record in research. 82% of the institution’s research is considered world-class (REF) – a fact reflected in a record breaking year for the university, attracting £40.6m in research funding in 2015. With an expanding campus in Dubai and last year’s opening of a £35m campus in Malaysia, Heriot-Watt is now among the UK’s top five universities in terms of international presence and numbers of international students.

"In 2015, Heriot-Watt University was ranked 34th overall in the QS ‘Top 50 under 50’ world rankings." 

Its established strengths in industry-related research will be further boosted with the imminent opening of the £20m Lyell Centre. It will become the Scottish headquarters of the British Geological Survey, and research will focus on global issues such as energy supply, environmental impact and climate change. As well as providing laboratory facilities, the new centre will feature a 50,000 litre climate change research aquarium, the UK Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas, and the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience.

International appeal

An increasingly global outlook, supported by a bold international strategy, is helping to drive Edinburgh Napier University’s growth. The university now has more than 4,500 students studying its overseas programmes, through partnerships with institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Sri Lanka and India.

Edinburgh Napier has been present in Hong Kong for more than 20 years and its impact grows year-on-year. Already the UK’s largest higher education provider in the territory, more than 1,500 students graduated in 2015 alone.

In terms of world-leading research, Edinburgh Napier continues to make its mark, with the REF judging 54% of its research to be either world-class or internationally excellent in 2014. The assessment singled out particular strengths in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, where it was rated the top UK modern university for research impact. Taking into account research, knowledge exchange, as well as student and staff spending, Edinburgh Napier University generates in excess of £201.9m GVA and supports 2,897 jobs in the city economy.

On the south-east side of Edinburgh, Queen Margaret University is Scotland’s first university to have an on-campus Business Gateway, highlighting the emphasis placed on business creation and innovation.

QMU moved up 49 places overall in the 2014 REF, taking it to 80th place in The Times’ rankings for research excellence in the UK. The Framework scored 58% of Queen Margaret’s research as either world-leading or internationally excellent, especially in relation to Speech and Language Sciences, where the University is ranked 2nd in the UK.

In terms of its international appeal, one in five of Queen Margaret’s students now comes from outside the EU, and it is also expanding its overseas programme offer, which already sees courses delivered in Greece, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

With 820 years of collective academic excellence to export to the world, Edinburgh enjoys a truly privileged position in the evolving story of academic globalisation and the commercialisation of world-class research and innovation. If he were still around today, Senator Moynihan would no doubt agree – a world-class city indeed.

For further information www.investinedinburgh.com