The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Five Years Is Too Long

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 14, 2010 @ 12:14

Maybe this parliament won't even live to see five years anyway...

“That’s all we’ve got, we’ve got five years…”
– David Bowie

Parliaments that last five years invariably end in disaster. Look at recent precedent:

1992 – John Major squeaks home with a 20 majority that could so easily have been a hung parliament.

1997 – John Major ends a disastrous term, battered from crisis to crisis, buffeted by events, ending in a Labour landslide.

2010 – Gordon Brown fails to seize the early initiative, “goes long”, and sees Labour suffer a 5.6% swing against his party in England and Wales, bringing an end to 13 years of Labour rule.

2015 – ?

The argument is that we need a five year term because it gives “stability” for the long term. Except five years isn’t the long term. Let’s face facts, politics is not about the long term. It’s about the short and medium term. Lib Dems want five years because they know it might take that long to reverse the reputational damage suffered in Lib/Lab marginals. It’s also enough time that something good at least might come from it.

The Tories too like the idea of five years because it guarantees the levers of power for that long. No worries about economic catastrophe caused by savage cuts, and an uprising in the Labour Party led by a wonderful new leader, consolidated by leftie Lib Dem defections. Because a mere 2.5% swing to Labour on current boundaries would put Labour strongly back in the driving seat.

But five years is too long.

Maybe we can make an exceptional case that, just this once, five years might be needed to ride out the economic misery ahead. And then after that we lean back towards four years ago. After all, Scotland, Wales and NI have fixed term parliaments. Four years works for them. Four years works for most democracies. Australia go with three, and the House of Representatives gets just two!

Only, if the Lib-Con coalition is to be believed, we’ll never have four year elections again.

I wrote a load of old rubbish last September about how the legitimacy of a parliament declines over time. Of course, my formula was gerrymandered to fit how short I think a parliament should be, but the underlying idea that people get restless as time goes by is sound.

I just think five years is too long to ask people to wait to cast their verdict on what’s happened, and what’s to come. Democracy needs to be more reactive to the people if we are to encourage the next generation that politics is worth doing.

Nobody’s listening, however.

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One Response to “Five Years Is Too Long”

  1. Duncan said

    If that is true then it makes it a good time to have an election. Why? Imagine all governments enjoy a high point in popularity round about the 2-3 year mark and a low point round about 5. If you had 3-year fixed-term parliaments they would get re-elected at the high point and then stick around into the 6th-year; beyond the established lowpoint.

    “Lib Dems want five years because they know it might take that long to reverse the reputational damage suffered in Lib/Lab marginals” – Yup.

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