Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fixed Term Parliament: The Magic Number

Andrew Rudalevige wrote at The Monkey Cage blog:
The introduction of UK legislation to create fixed-term (5 year) Parliaments is… a major constitutional reform. But in the short term it is also an enforcement mechanism for the current coalition. The proposed legislation would prevent the Prime Minister from unilaterally deciding to dissolve Parliament and hold a new election - and it would prevent a narrow vote of ‘no confidence’ from doing the same thing. Instead, this would require a supermajority vote in the House of Commons — set at 55%.

That number is notable. After all, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats between them hold… 56% of the Commons. So — the LDs are protected in that the Tories can’t dissolve Parliament out from under them in hopes of gaining a majority in their own right. The Tories are protected in that the LDs can’t collude with Labour and the smaller parties along those lines, since that collusion could at best comprise 53% of Commons seats, even making unrealistic assumptions about Northern Irish DUP votes.

What You Need to Know


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2 Comments:

At 8:51 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Comment from Canada:
Cold, hard coalition lessons from this side of the pond

"Britain’s new government has demonstrated that coalition governments are possible, even outside of wartime, in the modern era of Westminster-style parliaments…

"New British Prime Minister David Cameron and Liberal-Democrat deputy Nick Clegg have even devised a new plan to ensure stability in a hung Parliament: a five-year fixed term for elections to be set out in law. But Canada’s lesson is that politicians’ electoral calculations are not easily contained…

"What is still very hypothetical is the Cameron-Clegg deal to ensure a five-year government…

"Canada has found those offers of hung-Parliament stability to be a mirage…

"Canada’s fixed-election law had an out, because it had to. Calling elections is the Crown’s power, and our Parliament can’t change that without a constitutional amendment approved by provinces. So the fixed-term law left the Governor-General’s ability to launch elections whole, and Mr. Harper asked for one.

"Britain’s similar, but not the same. They have no written constitution, and Parliament can limit the Crown’s powers. Its coalition can pass a fixed-term law.

"But another part of that agreed law is less likely to fly: changing the convention so that it will take 55 per cent of MPs to defeat the government. That would effectively give Mr. Cameron’s Conservatives, with 47 per cent of MPs, a veto on its own survival. Changing that convention may be constitutionally questionable, especially if all the parties in the Commons disapprove, according to York University constitutional expert Patrick Monahan…

"So the fixed-term bill appears to make it impossible for Mr. Cameron to call an election. But it probably can’t bind Mr. Clegg from splitting away and forcing one – given a pretext, and good polls. And if Mr. Clegg can’t be bound, it’s not impossible for Mr. Cameron to trigger a split by pushing measures the Liberal Democrats can’t accept. Financial markets hoping a stable government will really tackle deficits aren’t betting on a sure thing.

"Nick Clegg has tied himself to Mr. Cameron’s Conservatives for now, but only after flirting with Labour, and deciding teaming up with the losers was bad politics. There’ll be another election, and Britain can’t be sure when.

"Britons are pushing Canada’s politicians to answer the coalition question. But if they looked here, they wouldn’t be so confident they have tamed the political forces that lead to snap elections."

 
At 9:24 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

More skepticism on a set term for UK parliament from Joshua Tucker at The Monkey Cage blog.

No Matter What You Hear, Don't Count on the British Coalition Lasting Five Years

 

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