Thursday 13 May 2010

How Long?

I might not endear myself to political activists (of whom I'm one - and whose feet still are a little tender after the recent campaign) - or indeed voters who have been bombarded with leaflets and blanket coverage on the TV & radio (to say nothing of emails; facebook & twitter messages...) - with my concerns, but is Five Years too long a period between elections?

I am not opposed to fixed term Parliaments - in fact I strongly support the idea. Yesterday's Coalition Agreement document states "The parties agree to the establishment of five year fixed-term parliaments. A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government will put a binding motion before the House of Commons in the first days following this agreement stating that the next general election will be held on the first Thursday of May 2015". An earlier dissolution is possible if more than 55% or more of the House of Commons votes in favour.

The current position is that Parliaments can last up to five years from the date of first meeting. Unless Parliament passes an Act to temporarily extend the term (as it did a number of times during the two world wars), Five years (and about a month) is the MAXIMUM length of a Parliament.

The coalition agreement would make a five year term the norm, which is considerably longer than the average length in the last hundred years. Would this be too long?

The Chartists argued for annual elections. They were concerned about accountability. In the Seventeenth Century for a short period after the Glorious Revolution - Parliaments were limited to three years. Many countries have Four Year terms (and that is the period of office for local government in the UK). In the USA Members of the House of Representatives have to seek office every two years.

I worry that five years is too long a term. Annual elections - or even a general election every other year are probably not good ideas. Four years seems to me to be about right - not too frequent, but allowing the public to hold their representatives to account without inordinate delay.

On a related matter, an elected House of Lords, the agreement says "It is likely that this bill will advocate single LONG terms of office." Again I have my concerns - the need for re-election is a powerful source of accountability to electors. People who don't have to face re-election for a very long time can afford to lose touch with those who put them there. No chance of re-election might weaken accountability even further.

What do you think? Let's open the discussion - whatever your view, or your experience (what's the view from people who live in the USA; or other European countries; or elsewhere?) - air it here.