Posted by The Futility Monster on August 24, 2010 @ 11:47
Yes. It is.
To me, the beauty of the American political system is in its enforced renewal. Every two years, the populist House has to be re-mandated. It is this very nature that makes it populist. Meanwhile, their ultimate leader and national figurehead, the President, gets a little longer, but is not allowed to stick around for more than eight years, lest he (not yet a she) start to get ideas above his station, and become a little too attached to the trappings of office.
There aren’t many other Western political systems that have such rigorous time and term limits on everything. The rest of us, especially Westminster inspired systems, have a lot more flexibility regarding the calling of elections. And that’s where the problem begins.
Take Australia. In January, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd looked in an extremely powerful position. The opposition had just replaced its leader, in a fractious contest that split the party down the middle. His personal approval ratings were sky high. The opposition controlled Senate had just blocked a key plank of his legislation – environmental regulation – for the second time. This opened the door for Rudd to engage in some constitutional jiggery-pokery: a “double dissolution” election, which, most probably, would have resulted in a sweeping Labour victory in both chambers of the Parliament.
Instead, he decides to tough it out. And then sees everything go wrong, getting chucked out and replaced by Julia Gillard.
Julia Gillard doesn’t want to repeat Rudd’s mistake. While the polls see her arrival as positive, and the Labor Party improves its standing, she decides to seize upon the honeymoon and go straight to that election. The net result: Labor on the brink, courtesy of a terrible, back-biting campaign, and an opposition that had had eight months to prepare for this very moment.
Then there’s Gordon Brown: clinging on by his fingernails till the very last moment. If only he’d gone straight away, like so many commentators (including me) thought he should. His first job, after accepting the invitation of the Queen to be the Prime Minister, should have been to say, “And now I’d like an election to mandate this change”. He didn’t. He didn’t want to be one of the shortest ever PMs. And yet all the omens were good for them. Tories still not ready. Old election boundaries. Honeymoon period. The rest is history.
Recent evidence seems to be that politicians are not very good at choosing the timing of elections. They either worry that they’re about to sign their own death warrant, or are hopelessly optimistic about what’s lurking around the corner.
Since we should only trust politicians as much as is necessary, we should do them all a favour and back the idea of fixed election dates. Let’s take the stress off them, and in return, remove a major element of political fiddling from the system.
Though I still think five years is too long…
Posted in Musings | Tagged: Australian politics, comparative legislatures, elections, fixed term parliaments, Gordon Brown, Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, political bravery, political science, populism, US politics | 2 Comments »
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.
Posted in Musings | Tagged: coalition agreement, coalition government, electoral legitimacy, fixed term parliaments, legitimacy, Lib-Con coalition | 1 Comment »
Posted by The Futility Monster on January 4, 2010 @ 09:58
Looks like what I did to spoil my ballot paper one year. Image forthcoming one day...
Fans of non-fixed term parliaments often point to the USA for an example of why our system is much better. After all, their presidential campaigns are now never any shorter than 16 months, sometimes even more. That leads to election fatigue in even the most seasoned veterans.
And even then, as soon as one cycle begins, another one starts up. Two year terms in the House of Representatives will do that.
Of course, such arguments are a distraction. In case you haven’t noticed, today there is a blizzard of publicity from both parties as they try to out manoeuvre each other on various aspects of policy. It is shameless electioneering, and all the news outlets have called it as such.
But it is the election which dare not speak its name according to the Labour government. Ed Balls was doing the rounds this morning telling everyone there will be an election “this year”. Wow, thanks Ed. Really insightful. In fact, he went even further, telling us that “by law” there must be an election held by June. Fascinating stuff.
Let’s go a bit further back, though. Think back to the dark days of September 2009. You may recall a certain few political conferences, at which all the leaders and their acolytes gave significant speeches, many of which were also spun as the start of the election campaign.
Then there was a little thing that is starting to be dubbed the draft Queen’s Speech. Gordon Brown announced in July his legislative timetable for the coming session. Many of these things were also seen as an attempt for the Labour government to set out its stall.
Yes. It’s a total nonsense to suggest that our elections are only defined by the formal campaign period. That’s the only time in which the broadcasters have to be fair in terms of coverage time; maybe that’s the only point at which parties like the Lib Dems get some real election action. But otherwise, the two main parties have invariably been squaring up against each other for many months.
If not years. There’s no doubting either that the Tories have been readying themselves for this election – and government – for years now. It’s just that they won’t tell anyone what they really want to do with power. They know they just want it. And who doesn’t in politics?
The modern media age demands more headlines. There is a whole 24 hours to fill up, and infinite amounts of words can be poured all over the internet too. Political parties are only too happy to fill the void. And what better way then the fake contest between two very similar parties to make some binary opposition for the media narrative.
Either way, I think this probably will be the longest ever “election” campaign the country has ever experienced. One suspects we’ll all be thoroughly sick of the sight of Cameron, Brown and even dear Cleggy “by June”.
Let battle commence. Or continue. Or something.
Posted in Musings | Tagged: Ed Balls, election fatigue, electioneering, fixed term parliaments, next UK General Election | Leave a Comment »