5 Year Parliaments

 

                      Yesterday Parliament was asked to debate the 5 Year Parliament Bill. Some of my colleagues felt strongly that this piece of legislation was wrong, tampering with a tried and tested system for keeping a successful government or Parliament for up to 5 years, but allowing an election to be held earlier if need arose or if the Prime Minister wished. The government said its proposal preserved the right of Parliament to dismiss a government through a simple majority No Confidence vote as at present, but allowed the Parliament to continue to see if a new government could be formed.

               I did not get worked up about it in the way some did. After all, a Parliament could tire of the 5 Year Parliament Act and repeal it by a simple majority. A Parliament can still vote for a General Election under the Bill, although it needs a weighted majority, and there can still be a General Election if no new governemnt can be formed after a Vote of No Confidence.

               The sooner Parliament finishes all this business fiddling with the constitution and gets on to the serious business of reforming public services and shaping an economic policy that will deliver the growth we need, the better.

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15 Comments

  1. lifelogic
    Posted November 25, 2010 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    I too do not think this is a big issue for the reasons you give there are far more important issues though.

    I did say that the only positive so far was the partial HIP pack removal but yesterday I saw that the M4 bus lane has gone too. Perhaps I did Cameron an in injustice as they have now done two positive things.

    Just employment & equality legislation to change, pointless regulations to remove (most are), getting out of the EU, sorting out the banking sector, taking taxes to a sensible level that encourages investment not to leave, CAP and the daft green rigged energy policy to reform.

    In five years at this rate we will just have 10 positives and considerably more negatives.

    Time is of the essence if Cameron wishes to avoid following Heath &Major off the socialist cliff. It is nearly 20 years since the wets deposed Thatcher. If only Labour had won against her and had the blame for Major’s ERM fiasco and we had had a sensible government shortly after instead of 20 years of decline still continuing. Or she had won and handled the ERM disaster better (not hard to do better than Major – we still await an admission that the policy was mad indeed we are still repeating the mistakes).

  2. The ESSEX GIRLS
    Posted November 25, 2010 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    We entirely agree. There are much bigger fish to fry and we can only hope that more oil is being heated in the government fryer!

    A couple of things have struck us during the reporting of the current Euro crisis:

    1. That UK exports to Ireland represent 7% of the total and we sell more to a market of 4m people than we do to China, India & Brazil combined – an expanding total market 600 times larger by head count.

    2. The argument that our trading would be negatively affected by withdrawal from the EU. We suspect that the combined reasons for most of our exports to the Republic, our major EU customer, are a combination of :

    a) Their love of British brands and the common culture
    b) Geographic proximity
    c) History

    This combination would ensure no loss of trade. When Ireland is extracted from export/trading figures we pinpoint one of the fallacies that pro-EU politicians peddle.

  3. Denis Cooper
    Posted November 25, 2010 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    As the European Union Bill stands the “referendum lock” could also be repealed by a simple majority of MPs, if necessary using the Parliament Act to by-pass the Lords. Shouldn’t it be more firmly entrenched?

  4. English Pensioner
    Posted November 25, 2010 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    The sooner Parliament finishes all this business fiddling with the constitution and gets on to the serious business of reforming public services and shaping an economic policy that will deliver the growth we need, the better.
    Your last paragraph sums up the situation exactly. I think it is how most people feel, indeed many of us feel that all parliament has done for a good few years is to debate issues which affect very few of us, eg fox hunting, rather than (or possibly as a means of avoiding) debating the real issues which do affect us all. Surely the recent Defence review was sufficiently important to have a major debate which ought to have lasted several days. It is time Parliament tried to get away from “ya-boo” politics, had some real debates on issues that matter, and more importantly, the minister should be there and listen to what is being said rather than scuttling back to his office once he has made his statement.

  5. waramess
    Posted November 25, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Ah, but they won’t finish because the happiness stuff is next. All designed to keep the party in power by anything other than good performance.

    Just think if you could press a button and get elected because that was the happiness button you just pressed.

    John Major and Heseltine failed to find it but Blair did: give people more money to spend than they earn.

    Well, it kept him in for three terms which is a tad better than the five years offered by this bill.

    No, good governance is for idiots, much better to find some other way

  6. The ESSEX BOYS
    Posted November 25, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Could we indulge ourselves as the PM is apparently about to hold a press conference on ‘lifetime happiness’ ? We reproduce below the first section of the Review we did for a Conservative MP – based on voter research – in August 2008.
    As our colleagues the Essex Girls said earlier today there are bigger fish to fry at present but we believe that a summary of where this, or any government, hopes our people might stand 20 years hence – after much of the pain – is a very worthwhile aim.

    Happiness is perceived in many different ways and takes many forms. To achieve it is, generally, to live a satisfactory and satisfying life. The ultimate responsibility lies with the individual. The government is responsible for
    (a) setting the climate to make happiness possible having identified the factors likely to be influential for most citizens
    (b) providing the facilities to help them
    (c) providing a safety net in the event of failure

    As a starting point we have listed the factors we believe contribute to a happy life for most people.

    · Good health
    · Financial security
    · A safe and pleasant place to live
    · A good education
    · Supportive family and friends
    · An enjoyable job and/or purpose
    · Helping others
    · Faith in the rule of law and governance

    Some of these things can be tackled from Day 1 of the next government but, being realistic, most must be tackled gradually and are inter-dependant.
    We believe that our government and we the people are most likely to achieve our aims by having a ‘Working towards…’ strategy. This is an acknowledgement that things do take time but are more likely to be achieved from a broad consensus on where we want to be in 5, 10, 15 and 20 years time. We can then properly review our progress together as we go along riding the inevitable setbacks that occur along the way without being thrown off course.

  7. Geoff not Hoon
    Posted November 25, 2010 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Mr. Redwood. I know it maybe available elsewhere but what are the chances of you creating a simple (for morons like me) chart of government promises/policies/intentions etc. etc. with tables of spending levels at say mid 2010 and then over the next 5 years we follow, with your help, how things actually pan out.
    I ask this is as currently we have monthly deficits in PSBR running at record levels, real inflation is probably near 8/9% with no sign of coming down, Bank problems have not really gone away and further bail outs may be needed, the trade off between government cut backs and growth in the private sector has still to be seen in terms of net job changes and all of these things will be blurred, mixed up with millions of other issues as the months and years go by. Noone I know in or around politics has such a clear way of setting out and stating these things as you do so how about it?

    Reply: I will keep you up to date with overall spending and with individual areas as we go along.

  8. Acorn
    Posted November 25, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I think a lot of your colleagues agreed with you. Not many turned out for the debate. Bill Cash and Chris Chope are good entertainment though. Anyway, the bright young things at the ECB, agree with our governments approach.

    “First, drastic and permanent fiscal consolidation mainly concentrating on the expenditure side seems more appropriate than tax increases and timid adjustments. A recent example for such a rapid fiscal adjustment programme could be the current austerity budget of the UK.”
    http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/5831

  9. A.Sedgwick
    Posted November 25, 2010 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Regardless of the current tinkering, Parliaments should be a maximum of 4 years. Five years is another example of the established party system hanging on to power and defying democracy whenever they can. The USA effectively has elections every two years – the founding fathers are probably the best political thinkers ever. Our dead in the water system drifts on – more Lordships anyone?

  10. Neil Craig
    Posted November 25, 2010 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    I do not understand how this can be compatible with a Parliamentary, as opposed to Presidential form of government. If a government loses its Parliamentary majority it can’t govern. A Presidency still can though without being able to get its legislation through. A Parliamentary government needs an election to let the people juggle the numbers around & hopefully let a new government form.

    A far more dangerous risk than that a future Parliament could repeal this is that the precedent has been established that any government with a fleeting majority can now introduce any “reform” in its interests, without any popular referendum & without it having been any part of the programme they were elected on. 10 year parliaments, parliaments for life or disenfranchiment of any voter/any MP who doubts we are experiencing catastrophic warming may not be immediately on the cards, as this wasn’t a year ago, but the precedent is being established.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted November 25, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      In fact it would be more compatible with a Parliament elected by PR rather than by FPTP. That would be more likely to produce coalition governments, and if one coalition fell then there might be a chance of putting together a new coalition supported by a majority of the existing members without the need for a fresh election.

      This is why there are references to the Scottish Parliament, where this kind of arrangement was put in through its founding legislation, Section 3 of the Scotland Act 1998:

      http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/46/section/3

      “(1) The Presiding Officer shall propose a day for the holding of a poll if—.

      (a) the Parliament resolves that it should be dissolved and, if the resolution is passed on a division, the number of members voting in favour of it is not less than two-thirds of the total number of seats for members of the Parliament, or.

      (b) any period during which the Parliament is required under section 46 to nominate one of its members for appointment as First Minister ends without such a nomination being made.”

  11. sm
    Posted November 25, 2010 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Not quite as useful as having a constitutional lock to enforce a referendum on matters such as the EU. I would imagine only an edict from the EU would achieve it!once they feel we may answer correctly of course.

  12. Mark
    Posted November 25, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I am not quite so sanguine about this carefree and ill-though out constitutional gerrymandering. In the case of five year parliaments the motivation appears to be to create an artificial impression that the coalition will last the course. It may, but that should be because it remains a successful government, not because some Act makes it difficult to arrange a dissolution. Much of the argument on this issue has centred on notions about who should have the power to call for a dissolution, with the absurd 55% idea originally touted being demonstrably purely a consequence of the peculiar arithmetic of this Parliament. These arguments are all self-centred on self-serving politicians, and take no account of the impact on the country of the electoral cycle.

    A fixed electoral cycle of duration comparable to the natural economic business cycle will serve to exaggerate booms and busts as governments offer pork barrel measures ahead of an election, which then have to be treated with cold water to avoid economic overheat afterwards. Where a previous government has badly mismanaged the economy, five years can prove sufficient to reach the point of maximum pain in taking corrective measures, with the consequence that the public may be tempted to vote for temporary pain relief rather than securing a sound future. The ability to vary the electoral cycle makes it more likely that the country will be better served in economic management. Moreover, it keeps oppositions on their toes as they need to have sensible alternative to promote rather than simply awaiting Buggins’ turn.

    As it is the Lib Dems remain bound to the continuation of government for the foreseeable future because they face annihilation at the polls. As we go through tougher times we may need to ask the question “Who governs?” if strike and riot becomes daily fare. The new measures will place that decision at the behest of the Unions and their Parliamentary representatives, without whom no two thirds majority is possible. If we needed a two thirds majority in Parliament, it should be for constitutional amendment, including treaties that sign away our sovereignty.

  13. Norman Dee
    Posted November 26, 2010 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    I think in business the performing diligently of a task that is time consuming but non-contributary is called “distraction activity”, which it seems to me what is going on.

  14. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted November 26, 2010 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    Do we want the coalition to last 5 years? I would have thought that about 3 years of formal coalition, followed by a year of a minority Conservative government tolerated by the LibDems, would allow both parties to recover their identities and draw up their manifestos. You can’t write “we will form a coalition” in a manifesto. Edward Heath tried it in October 1974 and got badly beaten.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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