Don’t Scrap the Fixed Term Parliament Act – Liberal Article
On Tuesday 1st December, legislation was published which would repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2011. This promise had appeared in both the Labour and Conservative Manifestos for different reasons. The Conservatives cited: “We will get rid of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act – it has led to paralysis at a time the country needed decisive action”, while Labour said: “A Labour government will repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which has stifled democracy and propped up weak governments”.
So what is the FTPA, why do both parties want it to go, and why does this Liberal think it should stay?
The Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2011 was brought in under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition when no one knew how long that government would last. It gave the coalition insurance they could last five years instead of everyone wondering when they would collapse.
Prior to this, it was part of the Prime Ministers prerogative powers to decide when to hold a General Election. However, as we saw in 2017 and 2019, the PM can still call for an election if two-thirds of Parliament support him.
The Conservative Party see the FTPA as paralysing, as it took them multiple attempts to get the General Election they wanted in 2019. They needed a majority in parliament, not the confidence-and-supply agreement that lacked confidence and did not always supply. It was paralysing for a weak government who were grasping for more power. The Labour perspective on the Act claims that it stifles democracy, propping up weak governments. This isn’t an unfair statement, as demonstrated in 2017 and 2019.
However, it is questionable whether Labour would vote for it, whenever it makes it to the vote in the House of Commons. The act’s repeal will work directly in the interests of the ruling party. If the powers are to return to the Prime Minister (which is still questionable), then it allows parties to exploit a political moment.
For example, when Margaret Thatcher called an election in 1983, soon after the Falklands War, she capitalised on the nationalism that war brought out, as well as the prestige of being a triumphant leader. She then won the largest Conservative majority since 1935. This Act would have prevented this majority from being won and potentially levelled the playing field for the election.
There is also an argument for the Act to remain in place. It allows a government to continue under pressure. Theresa May’s first government might have, for better or for worse, lasted longer if they had decided not to push for an early election, and tried to live out their standard term. It prevents the exploitation of a political moment. And, allows for a more level playing field between the parties at the time of the General Election.
The FTPA cannot be simply repealed and things return to how they were. Prerogative powers lost in this way are not simple to return. And, if no provision is made upon repeal, the Parliament would not be able to be dissolved.
Different recommendations have been made, for committees to be formed to take the decision, alternative statutes to replace it. The draft bill for its repeal currently seeks to restore the prerogative power to the Prime Minister. According to the House of Commons Library, “A joint committee has been appointed to undertake a statutory review of the Act and undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of Government proposals to repeal the Act.”
I believe that if the act is to be repealed, there should be new mechanisms in place, rather than the Prime Minister solely having the power. There need to be checks and balances in a democracy in order to safeguard from power-hungry tyrants. And, some kind of consulting committee, from both houses and multiple parties, could be the solution.
I recognise that the FTPA does not work for everyone. But throwing it out and handing that power back to the Prime Minister could be a dangerous game.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Emma Hall
Point of Information
Remove, go beyond repeal, and replace – A Labour Response
The Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) has many contentious connotations. It is certainly not an act that was simply introduced and forgotten about. And rightly so; it affects the balance of power in the UK and ultimately the state of democracy.
It will not be a surprise then that I primarily disagree with Emma. I would suggest that her recognition of the FTPA not working for everyone is a sufficient enough reason to look to repeal. However, I too respect that a simple repeal and a return to the former system will not fully solve the existing problems.
Either way, there is still an inherent lack of involvement of the public in deciding election dates. Previously, a Liberal colleague at POI stated that the UK is not a real democracy and that ultimately the people deserve more power. I believe this holds true for election dates also. Currently, the electorate has no choice in the matter and so are almost forced to make a decision on who they trust the most, even if the time is not right. Take the 2019 election, for example, the good options were limited and the time was far from convenient – unless of course, you are Boris Johnson.
So the main problem I see is not the bill itself, that is a major underestimation. It merely highlights that there still exist far too many opportunities for the ruling party to further extend its power. Whether that was Margaret Thatcher in 1983 or Boris Johnson in 2019, research proves that “a Prime Minister gets a vote share bonus of 6%” when they select the election date. So the fact remains that they are able to take their own future and that of the UK political sphere into their own hands, often at the detriment of both the opposition and the electorate. On that note I do agree with Emma; handing this power back to the PM could definitely be a “dangerous game”.
It is a difficult debate that is for sure. And, I can certainly see why Emma and Kieran have such contrasting views. If I had to come down on one side, I would suggest that the FTPA has not been as successful as hoped with a lack of provision of stability. However, a repeal that offers the PM an extension of power is not ideal for democracy either.
I say: remove FTPA, go beyond repeal, and replace it with something far more democratic and involving of the UK electorate.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo
Politics is inherently unfair. The Fixed Term Parliament Act must go – A Conservative Response
I disagree with what has been written in this piece. The FTPA failed to create the stability it intended. It held a government hostage, and it tried to do the impossible and make an inherently unfair game fair.
These points will be expanded upon in a separate, extended response. As I am unable to do them justice in a shorter form.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt