I came across this great article yesterday discussing how fixed 5 year parliaments had changed the rhythm of politics and it prompted me to ponder - is 5 years too long?
I well understand the logic of fixed term parliaments and endorse it - it provides stability, confidence, and it avoids leaders calling elections when it is politically expedient for them do so (as opposed to when it is in the best interests of the country). And the way our Fixed Term Parliament Act is framed means a call of no confidence can still bring a government down to an early end, should one or more of the partners in a coalition think it's the right thing to do.
But 5 years?
Firstly, let's not forget how we got to 5 years. In a rush, pretty much agreed in the post election coalition agreement negotiations. True, it was then passed as an Act and could have been amended - but as both parties had already agreed the length, the period went through with little debate. But it seems - well just too long.
True - of the last 9 governments, 5 have been for 5 years (74, 87, 92, 2005, 2010) and 4 for 4 years (79, 83, 97, 2001), but each of the 5 years terms have been about political expediency to avoid losing a general election (and only successfully done in one case, '92). I don't think, whatever your politics, you would describe the governments of the 4 year terms as having failed to 'get stuff done' as their in built majorities enabled them to make policy happen. Historically, 4 year term governments have been more effective than 5 year governments.
Making fixed terms 5 years rather than 4 seems to automatically assume that the government in power will need an extra 18 months or so to get their political ducks in a row before any general election. And both ourselves and the Tories now seem set to embark on an 18 month process of telling the world how much we hate each other and how effective we are at stopping the other side doing things we don't like - which in it self doesn't seem the best for the country as a whole.
There's a great piece in this months Ad Lib magazine about the Lib Dem General Election team - and how strong it sounds. How much better if it were now engaged on a drive towards a general election in 2014 rather than in 18 months time.
Ah, say some - the manifesto's not ready.
To which I say - well it would be ready if we had a 4 year fixed term; and besides, we have already acknowledged that we face at best being part of another coalition, outright victory seeming beyond us. So really what counts manifesto wise is more likely our 4 key priorities than the rest of the manifesto - as this is probably all we can guarantee to deliver in a coalition government. That's not to say that's all we WILL deliver - but in terms of election, ahem , pledges, that's where we are on safe ground. And 4 years in a strong coalition should be enough to deliver it.
Seems better than the 12 month phoney war we're about to embark on. Before the real things starts around this time next year....