Jose asks [over on Yellow Duck’s Pond] when Britain will enjoy the “reality” of new elections?My guess is not before 2009 at the earliest. The maximum length of parliaments is fixed by the 1911 Parliament Act as five years. This Government was elected in May 2005, so in theory could carry on until the Spring of 2010.
In practice – save in the highly unusual and unlikely event of a government defeat on a Commons vote – the choice of a date rests with the prime minister. He will obviously select a time when the governing party is most likely to reap an advantage by going to the polls. If Tony Blair retires, as he has promised, by May 2007 – and as we know only too well, Mr Blair’s promises are an uncertain quantity – his successor will have a maximum of two years to ‘play himself in’ and to prepare the ground for another victory. He will most likely aim for a date in the autumn of 2009, unless ‘prudence’ dictates a snap election when he takes over.
This flexibility of election dates, within a five-year span, raises the question of whether we – the electorate – would benefit if the choice was taken out of the hands of the ruling party, and placed on a fixed term basis. While there is something to be said for the latter option, the example of the USA is not encouraging. What occurs there is that the minute a presidential or mid-term election is over, the parties barricade themselves in their bunkers and start firing ranging shots for the next election in two years’ time. The republic is never free of a perpetual electioneering atmosphere.
What would be far preferable would be a state of affairs which restores greater control over the political process both to members of parliament and to the electorate. Decision-making needs to be wrested away from the sofa at no. 10, and from backroom deals in and out of cabinet, and brought back into the House of Commons. One way for this to happen would be the introduction of a genuine system of proportional representation which gives real choice to the voters, and not merely to the party machines through a ‘list’ system.
This outcome is of course what makes PR anathema to party hacks, however much they may flirt with the idea of watered-down PR when it suits them. Until there is genuine PR, the voters’ hands will always be tied behind their backs. They will remain unable to express realistic preferences for the candidates they prefer, because of the necessity to cast negative votes in order to keep out the candidates they like the least.
This is what passes for ‘democracy’. Not for much longer, let us hope.
anticant is the blogname of a lifelong free speech and civil rights campaigner. A lot of his life since WW2 has been taken up with battling against cruel and over-bossy laws, censorship, censoriousness, and Nanny Knows Best types. Now elderly and in poor health, anticant hopes his memories and thoughts will be of interest to those engaged in today's struggles for freedom, democracy, and a more hopeful tomorrow.