Malcolm had to search it out. It’s by Philip Johnson, and it’s on the Telegraph blog-site. It’s cogent; and it’s worth the effort:
Parliaments have been subject to a maximum term since the Septennial Act of 1715, amended to five years by the Parliament Act of 1911, and the practice in modern times is to avoid going the full distance if at all possible. Since the war, there have been just three parliaments (1959-64, 1992-97 and 2005-2010) that have used the full five years and one other (1987-92) that almost did. The average length of a parliament over the past 60 years has been 3.7 years and this includes minority governments forced to the polls earlier than intended. Where governments have been in a position to choose, the term has almost always been around four years.
Indeed, when Asquith introduced the 1911 Act he acknowledged that the five-year maximum “would probably amount in practice to an actual working term of four years”.
Having the power to fix the date of a general election gives the governing party a huge advantage over the opposition and allows for what is essentially election campaigning to be dressed up as legislation, paid for by the taxpayer, rather than by the party.
A fixed-term parliament of four years would leave no one in any doubt of the election date, which would change only if a government lost a motion of confidence in Parliament.
Notice how that has been fundamentally altered by the ConDem concordat:
- Asquith has been over-turned. The current proposal is to extend the life of a parliament longer than most over democracies.
- The no-confidence rule would be fatally weakened. Instead of the need for a defeated administration to renew its popular mandate, all that would happen is a shuffling of ministerial chairs.
- Nobody was consulted before a highly significant change in constitutional arrangements. Surely this one, as much as the little-more-than-cosmetic change from FPTP to AV, demands referendum consent?
- Presumably, if defections and by-election losses leach away the coalition support, it now becomes possible, with a stroke of the parliamentary draughtsman’s pen, to adjust the 55% rule to something else: 60 or 65%?
Verily, this is a crock.