Fixed-term parliaments: 56% of voters support them, finds YouGov

I’ve written before about the fact I like fixed-term parliaments: In praise of 5-year fixed-term parliaments. You may remember that a few years ago, former Cambridge MP David Howarth tried to introduce them. Then in the Coalition Agreement, they became reality.

YouGov has asked the public what they think about them, and you can see the result below courtesy the New Statesman’s May2015 polling website:

yougov fixed term parliaments - 1

Despite the sub-heading claiming ‘The public are divided’, that’s not really true: by a 2:1 majority, voters think they’re a good idea (56% in favour with just 29% wanting to revert to the old system of Prime Ministerial whim). Of the 56%, who support fixed-term parliaments, though, there is a pretty even divide between those who prefer 4 or 5 years as their length. Here’s what I said about that in June:

Personally I quite like five-year terms. It reduces the temptation of government ministers to resort to “initiative-itis” as they know there’s a fair chance they will actually have to live with the consequences of their reforms and be responsible for their successful implementation (or not). … The usual pattern, pre-fixed-term parliaments, would have been for cabinet ministers to have two years in post; then a mid-term ‘scapegoat’ reshuffle; followed by another two years in a different post leading up to an election. It’s a recipe for poor government. I’m not saying that having the same ministers in post for 4-5 years guarantees good government, by the way (the names of Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove spring to mind). But at least there’s clear accountability: it’s hard to blame your predecessor for the failure of your policies if you’ve had a whole parliament to get it right.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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20 Comments

  • Tony Greaves 17th Dec '14 - 2:09pm

    Four years was LD policy and it was the Tories who insisted on five. Could be a minor change for the next constitutional Bill. (which we are certain to get).

    Tony

  • Matt (Bristol) 17th Dec '14 - 3:31pm

    Still don’t see what’s wrong with 4yrs 6mths. htis is an eccentric opinio ofmy own that no-one else shares.

  • Matt (Bristol) 17th Dec '14 - 3:33pm

    Ah. The aforegoing gobbledigook should mean ‘this is an eccentric opinion of my own that no-one else shares.

  • 4 years for me. As we’re going to get more coalitions in future I think 5 years is pushing it for a government that idealogically could be divided.

  • Having watched him interviewed on The Sunday Politics I can honestly say that 4-5 years of Iain Duncan Smith at DWP is an insult to pensioners and to the poor.
    Why have we propped up a Prime Minister whose judgement is so appalling that he thinks the appointment of Iain Duncan Smith to any responsible job in government is a rational action?
    That is nothing, however, nothing at all to do with the length of fixed term parliaments.

    Would we really want a Prime Minister whose judgement is so poor also deciding when we have an election and possibly springing one on us at four weeks notice?
    That was the old system and it enabled people like Thatcher to cling on to power for a decade despite the fact that the majority of voters were against her.

  • I’m quite increasingly opposed to fixed term parliaments and implementing them at the time they did was a very poor idea for the Lib Dems. They essentially binned their own trump card.

  • There is a very rational argument for elections every seven years.
    After six years it is totally ridiculous to blame everything on the last lot.

    Elections once every seven years is not entirely unknown.
    I would not be in favour of this, just saying that such consideration does not have to be restricted to 4 or 5.
    The Chartists petitioned for Annual Elections. Why not?

    We could also consider electing the Senate by thirds every two years — once we have abolished ‘The Best Day Care Centre in London’ as Paul Tyler describes The House of Lords.

  • I used to be a supporter of 4 years, but increasingly I think 5 years is the sweet spot for encouraging longer-term planning, which is sorely missing in modern governance.

    Anyone who wants to go back to un-fixed parliaments wants their head examining. As daft as going back to a hereditary House of Lords.

  • From 1695 to 1715 the Parliamentary term was set at a maximum of three years, and few Parliaments lasted that long. In 1716 the Whigs unilaterally lengthened the term of the Parliament to which they had just been elected to seven years, in order to avoid facing the people. Parliaments thereafter became increasingly corrupt and unrepresentative, and Great Britain became a one-party state for most of the 18th century, the nominal opposition never getting a chance at power, but allowed enough seats to remain a convenient bogeyman for the Whigs: vote Whig or get the Tories and the Pretender! (N.b., the 18th-century Tories had no historical or organisational connection with today’s Conservative Party.)

  • 4 years should be the answer, for practical reasons, ie that all the other elections have their 4 year cycles, and GEs could be fitted into that, so they didn’t clash with any others (possibly!) However a higher imperative then takes over, and especially for the Lib Dems, ie that every 20 years we would be slaughtered, when the GE overlaps with the 5 year cycle of the Euro Elections! I imagine that I wouldn’t be far wrong if I postulated that as an argument used in coalition negotiations. MBoy – I think you massively overstate the case for fixed term.

  • David Evans 17th Dec '14 - 7:17pm

    But I wonder “How many of them thought it was even remotely important?”

  • paul barker 17th Dec '14 - 7:35pm

    Fixed terms have been a brilliant innovation but they have certainly hit our Poll ratings uo to now as Voters delay thinking seriously about Politics for even longer. If we are going to have more Coalitions then Fixed Terms are an absolute necessity. Ideally the Federal Term should be 5 years & everthing else something different so the Voters cant use them to make Protest votes.

  • David Evans 17th Dec '14 - 8:21pm

    paul barker – I think you are being rather naive when you now blame fixed term parliaments for our poll ratings. It is the mess that Nick has made of so many things while being in coalition that has scuppered our poll ratings. If you don’t believe me, ask on a few doorsteps.

  • One of the nice things about fixed term Parliament’s, is that we are not being bombarded by the media trying to second guess when the PM is going to call an election.

    I think 5 years is good, particularly if we are keeping to the current convention of all seats being contested. What we’ve effectively seen is 4.5 years of reasonable government and only now with six or so months to go have we started to really see parties getting distracted by the impending election.

    I think JohnTilley’s suggestion of 6 years could work, but then if we allow longer terms in office I suggest we need to add caveats such as mid-term elections – as per local government, and probably some limit on the number of sessions one person can be PM – as per the US president.

  • Dear god, can you imagine the damage the Tories (with Lib Dem help) would wreak in 6 or 7 years. There would be no public infrastructure left, all public services would be in the hands of private companies and the NHS would be but a memory.

    And that’s not even contemplating the people that would be harmed by the continual damage to the Social Security system. Speaking of which, it was nice to see the Lib Dems voting against the Labour motion on the bedroom tax today.

  • The old system also meant that soon after any government had completed three years in office, uncertainty and short-termism grew rapidly. One good thing about the coalition has been that this did not happen till about now.

    Also experience from local government shows that if you’re faced with NOC for a fixed period, all parties find ways of managing it and there is a strong reason for some co-operation, Westminster parliaments like that of February 1974 have been treated as excuses for a quick election and no real effort to work across parties.

  • paul barker 17th Dec ’14 – 7:35pm
    “…Fixed terms ….have certainly hit our Poll ratings uo to now as Voters delay thinking seriously about Politics for even longer. ”

    paul barker, You are the sunniest optimist even in the middle of winter.
    We are only 111 days away from parliamentary candidates putting in their nomination papers.
    That’s 16 weeks in old money, and two of those weeks will be Christmas/NewYear.

    Do you have any evidence from any other democracy in the world that fixed-term parliaments result in voters making up their minds later ?

  • refitman 17th Dec ’14 – 8:54pm

    Yes I can imagine the damage Conservatives or Blairites can do over a period longer than 4 or 5 years.

    In fact I can remember the damage done by Thatcher and Blair because they were both in office for much longer.

    4 or 5 year terms often enable parties to stay in power for 8 or 10 or 12 years because they spend the first 4 years blaming everything on their predecessors and thereby get away with it.

    Fixed terms between elections do not result in automatic removal of bad administrations.

  • @JohnTilley

    they spend the first 4 years blaming everything on their predecessors and thereby get away with it.

    “The mess Labour left” – yep, gotten quite sick of that now.

  • David Evans 18th Dec '14 - 9:53pm

    @Refitman – ‘ “The mess Labour left” – yep, gotten quite sick of that now.’ I would if I were you, sadly the damage done by 13 years of Blair/Brown was the perfect complement to the damage done by 18 years of Thatcher/Major. Talk about “We are all Thatcherites now.” Now that really makes yer sick.

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