Back in May, as the MPs expenses furore kicked off in earnest, politicians of all colours were quick to come forward with their prescriptions for an ailing political system. Solutions ranged from simple reform of the expenses system to full-blown constitutional revolution, involving a menu of changes to the voting system, selection of candidates from open primaries and fixed-term parliaments. Perhaps the most surprising convert to the latter idea was Tory leader David Cameron.
Never too shy to leap on the nearest passing bandwagon, Cameron announced back in May that he and his party were ‘seriously considering’ fixed-term parliaments as a means of tackling the malaise of modern politics while his aides were briefing that “David’s been thinking about this for a while. It fits into everything we’ve been saying.” (Apart, of course, from Cameron’s endless calls for Gordon Brown to call an early General Election.)
But if, as some are speculating, the 2010 Election results in a hung parliament will Cameron stick to his pledge? If he finds himself at the head of a minority Conservative government, struggling to enact their agenda, how long will he be able to fight off the temptation to call a snap election?
My guess is that this promise (one of very few that anyone has been able to wring out of the Tories) will be ditched very swiftly if there’s any kind of advantage to David Cameron. Indeed, even if there’s a Conservative administration with a comfortable majority, it’s hard to believe that he won’t be tempted to go to the country a year or so early if the opinion polls are favourable.
In my opinion fixed-term parliaments are a great idea, as the Prime Ministerial prerogative has been abused too many times in the past, but I don’t think it would be too much of a risk to predict that this is a Tory promise which is almost certain to be broken.