Fixed-term Parliaments Act is dead without a whimper

25th March 2022 / United Kingdom
Fixed-term Parliaments Act is dead without a whimper

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that for the first time set in legislation a default fixed election date for a general election to the Westminster parliament.

This Act meant that elections were required by law to be held at least once every five years, but could be called earlier if the Prime Minister advised the monarch to exercise the royal prerogative to do so.

The FTPA was introduced by David Cameron. What is not commonly known is that until 2010 the Conservative Party’s manifesto made no mention of fixed-term Parliaments. The Labour Party manifesto for 2010 said that it would introduce fixed-term Parliaments, but did not say how long they would be and the Liberal Democrat manifesto for 2010 included a pledge to introduce four-year fixed-term Parliaments. All three parties agreed on the FTPA.

The FTPA has now been handed its death sentence after it was repealed in Parliament yesterday. The national newspapers have not reported it, even political commentators have not bothered.

The Dissolution received royal assent from the Queen on Thursday, thereby rescinding legislation designed to stop an incumbent party from gaining an unfair advantage by choosing the date of a general election.

From one point of view – it could be said that the Act was a disaster anyway. Far from fixing terms and bringing stability, the FTPA – which set the length of time between elections at five years – brought paralysis and constitutional deadlock to Britain’s democracy and was only conceived to reassure the Cameron-Clegg Coalition that neither would not ditch one another at a moment’s notice.

The early months of Boris Johnson’s reign in 2019 were characterised by stalemate as a result of the FTPA. His attempts to call a fresh election were blocked by the opposition and his lack of majority, meaning the process of government ground to a halt.

But experts have also panned the FTPA as not fit for purpose. Raphael Hogarth, an associate at the Institute for Government (IfG), says the FTPA created a “problem of dispute confidence” because it did not specify what would happen in the period after a “vote of no confidence.”

The government says that by “restoring the long-standing constitutional norm that the Sovereign may grant a dissolution of Parliament”, the prime minister can once again “seek a fresh democratic mandate from the British public where necessary”. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act repeal puts an end to what was a short-sighted piece of political chicanery. One has to say – chicanery brought about by the very party that is in power today.


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