So much for fixed terms

Barring a further unexpected turn of events, it seems the UK government has an answer to the question of whether an early election can be called, despite the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. [Update: the measure to call the election has passed.]

Prime Minister Theresa May has indicated that she wants a snap election. In May, of course–Alas, no, it is actually on 8 June.

Under the FTPA, parliament can be dissolved early only if (1) the government loses confidence and a resolution of confidence in a government (whether the original or a new one) is not passed within 14 days, or (2) the House of Commons votes by two-thirds of its total number to dissolve itself.

May is seeking the latter, and with opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saying he “welcomes” an election, the vote is likely to go ahead.

May’s Conservatives have a narrow majority in the current Commons. The snap election is likely to give the party a much bigger one. This may not do much to strengthen the government’s hand with the EU in Brexit negotiations (the ostensible justification), but it should strengthen its hand against its own back-benchers.

Recommended: Alan Renwick’s take.

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13 thoughts on “So much for fixed terms

  1. No constitutional rule can prevent an opposition party from committing electoral suicide and probably no constitutional rule should try. I am amazed by Labour’s idiocy in agreeing to an election date that can only advantage the government.

  2. In fairness to the Parliamentary Labour Party, they have made it very clear since last year’s referendum that they do not want Corbyn as leader. If Corbyn had done the decent thing and resign, then a) the new Labour leader might not have been one to agree so easily to this snap election and b) would probably have been much better-placed to fight one if he or she did agree to it.

    On a different note, as far as I can tell, Germany, France, and Britain have never before all held elections in the same year (going back all the way to German unification in the 19th century). Feels like some sort of cosmic alignment.

    • As far as I can tell, neither the leader nor the parliamentary party even considered challenging the dissolution in parliament. Arguing that this is an opportunistic election called purely for the reasons that fixed terms were introduced to prevent would not have been a slam dunk, but it would also not have been a guaranteed defeat.

    • The best comment I have seen on Labour’s idiocy was by Peter Kellner, too good not to reprint:
      “Labour’s victory in the general election campaign should not have come as such a surprise. Indeed, the turn-round was possible precisely because the party had been doing so badly and its leader was hated by so many of its MPs. The defeat in a crucial by-election confirmed the message of the opinion polls. Just five weeks before election day, the leader was forced to stand down. Under new management, the party’s support rose sharply. Labour not only won the election. It stayed in power for 13 years—eight of them under the party’s brand new leader.”

      No, that is not a prediction designed to induce excessive optimism or despair. My crystal ball is not that clear. Rather, it is an accurate piece of political history. The ousted Labour leader, however, was not Jeremy Corbyn but Bill Hayden; his replacement not Chuka Umunna but Bob Hawke; the date not 2017 but 1983; the by-election not Copeland but Flinders; the country not Britain but Australia.

      Were I advising Labour MPs, I would urge them to copy that Australian precedent, for it is the only way I can see of Labour avoiding a catastrophe on 8th June.”
      https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/blogs/peter-kellner/labour-will-lose-what-then

      • Sadly for Labour, they do not even have that option. If I ever get to write an institutional organisation handbook for parties, rule one will be “thou shalt always allow thy legislative party caucus dismiss thy party leader”.

    • They had another leadership vote after the referendum. Corbyn won by an even larger margin than in 2015.

      • Said leadership vote was by ‘registered supporters’ (those paying a small fee)+members of the party and unaffiliated trade unions. Labour MPs voted no-confidence in Corbyn by 172 votes to 40 preceding this leadership vote.

  3. The House of Commons approved the motion for an early election today by 522 to 13. I’m not absolutely certain, but I think this was the first time in history the House voted on a motion which required more than a regular majority to succeed.

  4. Full Disclosure: I am against five year terms (too long), I am against two-thirds votes for non-constitutional matters (the House should be able to dissolve itself by no more than an absolute majority), I am not a fan of letting the PM decide when to go to the polls, especially to seek an advantage (I lkind of ike the Canadian workaround where the election is scheduled, unless it is brought forward..or the PM decides otherwise), and I am not convinced that it is anyone’s interest besides the Tories and maybe the SNP to have this election now.

    That being said, I do think the Brexit is a large enough issue where the PM should go to the nation and get a Parliament with a clear mandate to move forward. (Or backwards in certain longshot scenarios).

    And finally a question. I record Question Time every Wednesday and watch when I get home. This week the recording caught the start of what I believe was the debate before the election division. Right before the recording cut off, a Conservate backbencher (I believe) asked May if she was planning on scrapping the Fixed Term Parliament Act. Is there any chance of that happening in the next Parliament?

  5. Pingback: The UK result–quick thoughts | Fruits and Votes

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