Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
12 May 2010

Fixed-term parliaments won’t prevent a second election

This government is unlikely to last until 2015.

By George Eaton

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).

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

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.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

Special offer: get 12 issues of the New Statesman for just £5.99 plus a free copy of “Liberty in the Age of Terror” by A C Grayling.