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Going for a 5-year fixed term might have been mistake

June 14th, 2013

Henry G Manson on the impact of waiting till May 2015

I’m not a big fan of fixed terms, but what stuck me at the start of the Coalition was how little debate there was about the length of fixed term that was being proposed. The majority of fixed term governments are run on a 4 year cycle, yet the Coalition were determined to lock in 5 years of government. This in itself will pose challenges for all parties.

From a democratic view I dislike the idea of having to wait longer to throw out a government of any colour. We know from our country’s recent history that governments that staggered on five years did so to avoid the inevitable reckoning with the voters, instead hoping ‘something will turn up’ No-one from the Conservatives looks fondly of 1996-97 under John Major. 2009-10 under Gordon Brown was littered with botched leadership challenges and a sense of gloom. For governments out of favour with the electorate the rot has often set in by the fourth year.

For the Coalition we’re still a whole year away from that 4 year landmark. 3 years in there’s growing talk of leadership challenges to David Cameron, the Conservative grassroots are alarmed at the electoral threat of UKIP and policies such as ‘gay marriage’ that have upset and distressed many activists.

    At Westminster there’s the drumbeat of animosity between backbench MPs from both Coalition parties, each blaming the other for their failings. The two years until the election could be a long and rocky road.

2015 will mark ten years of David Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party. It’s a long time in modern politics and to ask for 5 more years in 2015 becomes that bit harder both within the party and with the public. A 2014 general may have been too soon for Ed Miliband but 2014-2015 could be the year where voters decide to give him a chance.

It’s not all good news for Labour. Although Labour fixed terms have provided an orderly timetable for fundraising, candidate selection and developing policy. But if we were now a year until the election there’d arguably be more focus, urgency and energy. There are fears the party is using the comfort of a five year fixed term to put off decisions and the voters can sense that.

If we’re to continue with fixed terms in the future then they need to be 4 years and not 5. For everyone’s sake.

Henry G Manson