The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (FTPA) Must Go – Conservative Article
This is an extended response to a previous POI article which called to keep the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (FTPA) to help restrain ‘power-hungry tyrants’.
FTPA should be scrapped. It was passed to try to keep some stability within Parliament, but it has failed. Politics is an inherently unfair game. Any attempts to make it fairer will ultimately backfire.
The Act was supposed to ensure consistency for elections; once every five years. However, since it has been passed, there have been three elections (2015, 2017 and 2019) in a four year period. Had the act been followed then neither the 2017 nor 2019 election should have happened, as they were both held early.
If we held true to FTPA, there would have been a political crisis in the UK in 2020. You would have either had an election (five years on from 2015) or a continuation of the paralysed 2017 Parliament.
The logistics of reorganising an election to fit the COVID-19 crisis would have been disastrous. The planning for it would have taken away from planning measures against COVID-19. Just look at what happened in the 2020 US election.
Johnson pushing for an election in 2019 and going against FTPA allowed him to clear the instability in Parliament and have a strong government ready for the COVID-19 crisis. Whatever Johnson’s fault, a paralysed parliament’s response to COVID-19 would have been much, much worse.
The paralysis of 2017-2019 highlights both instability and the unintended consequences of trying to make politics fairer. The FTPA allowed for a weak government to be overly constrained by an unreasonably strong parliament. This government was unable to pass key manifesto legislation due to parliament overpowering them. That parliament was also itself divided on what it wanted. It is clear that had the FTPA not been in place, an election would have been called much sooner to clear the instability. The FTPA undemocratically held a government hostage.
An unintended consequence is that the instability in Parliament led to instability in society. Societal tensions rose dramatically during 2017-2019 due to the paralysis of Parliament. Tensions that could have been spilt onto ballots went into society itself.
The Conservative Party was right to ‘grasp for power’, as they were doing it to fulfil the promise of the 2016 referendum, a core manifesto promise. ‘Grasping for power’ makes it sound nefarious. It was not. They were looking for this power through democratic means by way of a general election, where every party has the free and fair right to campaign. The people could freely reject this ‘grasp for power’.
There are provisions in the act that allow for the release of a government, either through a two-thirds majority vote or through a vote of no confidence. These provisions were meant to remove a failing government. There is no need to let it play out ‘for better or for worse’ when it is clearly not working. If these powers were returned to the PM, then he or she would be able to make this assessment themselves quicker and return to the people for a fresh mandate.
The Labour Party was instead too busy playing politics to recognise that the failing May government needed changing. They could have allowed for an election sooner. But Labour thought the longer they allowed the Conservatives to fail, the bigger the political reward for them.
The Labour Brexit Trap also meant they acted in a self-interested fashion rather than allowing the people to decide the future of Brexit and the country. An opposing party will not grant an election unless they saw it as benefiting themselves as well, otherwise, that would be political suicide.
This is the case for the 2019 election. Jo Swinson thought that she could capitalise on a perceived Remainer vote. A portion of Labour (111 MPs) did not back the 2019 election, because they thought that it would damage their party and that they wouldn’t get the votes needed to form a government. A paralysed Parliament benefitted them more.
The FTPA wouldn’t have prevented the perceived unfairness that occurred in the 1983 election. Thatcher was acting on a moment of Conservative strength and Labour weakness. May thought she was doing this in 2017. The only difference is that May had the backing of the FTPA. Politics is about acting when you are strong, and when your opponent is not. Thatcher was not wrong to reap the rewards from her courageous action. If the people wanted to punish her economic policies, then she gave them their chance. If a government is governing well, it deserves to be re-elected. Calling an election early is not a home run; it could backfire.
Labour follows this thought as well. Tony Blair did not allow for five-year intervals for the two elections he oversaw while in government. The Labour Party is no better than the Conservatives in this regard. This is not an advantage to a political party but for the office itself.
Defeats at these ‘unfair’ elections also allowed both parties to evolve for the better. Michael Foot was hugely unpopular. Even in a ‘fair’ election, he would have been swept. An early defeat for Labour allowed them to move on quicker. The same can be said for the Conservatives under Hague. If these elections were prevented from happening it would have prevented new ideas from coming into both parties.
Politics is about taking the circumstance and making it your own. This includes when to call an election. The FTPA tried to make politics fairer, but it will always be unfair. It has caused Britain to be more unstable and divided. It needs to go, and the power it grants should be returned to the PM.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
Point of Information
Your supposed invalidations demonstrate the workability of the Act – A Liberal Response
The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act is not perfect by any means. However, Kieran’s solution of restoring the powers to the Prime Minister places far too much power in the hands of one individual. Furthermore, under the UK constitution, these powers do not immediately return to the PM, so this is not a solution to the problem.
Kieran claims that the FTPA would have prevented the 2017 and 2019 elections: it clearly did not. The clause in the act that allows an election has been put to use, so the argument is completely undermined.
They still managed to pursue the election they wanted: the government just has to convince Parliament. In a Parliamentary democracy, this is not the biggest ask for a competent government. There is no instance of the government pursuing an election and not getting it. Even though the 2019 General Election was previously put forward and rejected, that was over the threat of No Deal rather than preventing an election.
Kieran awards the Conservatives far too much credit for “planning for a crisis”. The election was not called to create a stronger government in case of a major crisis, such as the pandemic which would go on to kill thousands of people. It was merely to fulfil their own political agenda over our departure from the EU.
If we had retained the 2017 government through this election, perhaps the Covid measures might have been better thought through and subjected to a greater level of scrutiny. This could have potentially helped save lives in the process.
The Act provides stability and some remedy to the unfairness of politics. Much of politics is unfair, I grant you – but that is not the only way.
Written by Junior Liberal Writer, Emma Hall
The FTPA is good; Power Grabbing is bad – A Labour Response
The idea of acting when you are strong is not in keeping with the democratic system. The ‘grasping for power’ that Kieran attempted to defend is a significantly damaging mindset.
Politics is not meant to be about winning. It is about delivering the best government and policies for the nation. In other words, rather than looking at ways for one party to dominate the other, it would be much more beneficial to cultivate an idea of cooperation between the main parties.
May made a miscalculation in 2017 when she called the General Election, but the issue was not the act itself. Instead, the issue was, and remains, this mindset of division and politicians being overly covetous of victory.
Arguing that the act would have led to a crisis in 2020 is a game of what if. I cannot award much credit to this. The government’s majority has hardly helped them lead the country well. Moreover, the false victories that were gained in northern constituencies in the 2019 General Election have granted little stability to the government.
Kieran would emphasise that the sitting number of tory MP’s is proof that elections called at the behest of a ‘strong’ PM benefit the country. However, these same MP’s are battling against Johnson and his government over the (insultingly obvious) North-South divide during the pandemic.
It is probably accurate to say the political system will never be perfect, but the FTPA (if it is followed in good faith) gives a regular schedule to elections which ensure that the country can make a choice at appropriate intervals. The key issue is the approach to politics, not the FTPA. More cooperation and less ‘grasping for power’ and the country would be in a far better state.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Henry Mckeever
Hello, my name is Kieran Burt and I am going into second year at Nottingham Trent University studying Politics and International Relations. I first developed an interest in politics through reading the Dictator’s Handbook by Alastair Smith and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, when I was 16, and have furthered my interest by studying politics at A level and now at university.
I am entering the third year of a BA in History and Ancient History at the University of Exeter. I have a fascination with the past otherwise and you would hope so, otherwise I may have chosen the wrong degree. But, writing for POI gives me the opportunity to talk politics which is something I simply can’t avoid.