So. Farewell then Fixed Term Parliaments?
The Chartists on Kennington Common on Monday 10th April 1848
In calling an Election for 8th June Theresa May needs to override (not repeal) the Fixed Term Parliaments Act passed by the Tory-LibDem Coalition.
As most suspected at the time the aim of the Act was not to represent a conversion to the idea of stable fixed term Parliamentary governance but simply a political expedient to stop either the Tories or LibDems from stabbing one another in the electoral back.
Indeed its quite hard to think of anything that David Cameron did that did not amount simply to a political expedient.
Just because Theresa May’s decision to call an Election is also based on grubby political pragmatism does not mean that fixed term Parliaments are wrong in principle though.
Many areas of British life revolve around annual or biennial elections-and arguably more should [judges for example]. As a Union officer I am subject to both yearly and biennial election for various posts and that underwrites both legitimacy and accountability.
One of the Six Points of the People’s Charter of 1838, the cornerstone of British democratic practice, was for annual Parliaments. It was the only one of the six never to become law.
It might be argued that this was because it was not practical in the mid nineteenth century and is even less so now. Doing most things that make a difference in a complex world and doing them effectively takes time.
The labour movement in the last quarter of the nineteenth century recognised that point and the Chartist demand was modified to call for Elections every two or three years.
Three years seems about right to me. It gives enough time for a Government to effect legislative change and to start implement it. I note Theresa May has preferred the two year option perhaps feeling a greater affinity with the Chartists than the Social Democratic Federation.
Of course there are other ways of precipitating General Elections, fixed term Parliaments are not necessarily that fixed and the Chartists also tried their hands at General Strikes and armed insurrections. They worked less well than the Six Points though