Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fixed-Term Parliaments?

Now that David Cameron is Prime Minister, with Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister, the pair can get to work on their agenda (and I promise we'll stop with this British politics stuff soon). Apparently one item on the program is a change to fixed-term Parliaments, so that the next election date is already planned for May, 2015.

Have the Brits thought about what this will mean? Britain is currently blessed with short election campaigns -- they last about six weeks. But, it seems to me, that's all based on not really knowing when the election is going to be. Current British law permits the governing party to call a general election anytime it wants, with a maximum interval of five years between elections. Of course that is rather unfair -- it gives the party in power an important edge, by allowing it to call an election when it thinks things are going well. But it does have at least one important advantage -- the campaign is short.

Because there's no fixed date for the election, no one knows when to start campaigning. Of course, you could start promoting yourself early, I suppose, but campaigning costs money, and you don't want to start blowing your campaign funds when you don't know the election date.

Once there's a fixed election date, it seems to me, everyone can start campaigning at whatever time they think strategically best, and the American experience suggests that that time gets earlier every election cycle. If Britain firmly establishes now that its next general election is going to be in May, 2015, I would expect campaiging to start a whole lot earlier than the traditional six weeks or so before the election -- they might have to endure six months or a year, and that's just for this go-around.

Well, perhaps they'll deal with it by limiting campaigning legally. Britain has no First Amendment to get in the way of campaign restrictions, so political television advertising is already mostly banned in Britain, and perhaps they'll figure out a way to stop campaigns from getting too long. But it'll be hard to ban all political promotion and I think fixed-term Parliaments are likely to lead to much longer campaigns.

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Anonymous said...

The other advantage (or, perhaps, disadvantage) of the current British system is that at least theoretically, MPs have to stay closely attuned to and vote with the views of their constituency throughout their term of office. In the fixed-term U.S. sytem, Senators and Presidents with relatively long fixed terms can take politically unpopular actions early in their terms and rely on voters to forget them by the time the next election rolls around.

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