Anybody betting on two general elections this year should first read this analysis by Chris Huhne

Anybody betting on two general elections this year should first read this analysis by Chris Huhne

The political and legal environment make it very difficult

Nearly a year ago the former LD cabinet minister, Chris Huhne, wrote an excellent piece in the Guardian on how the Fixed Term Parliament Act would make it difficult for a second general election shortly after an indecisive outcome – as looks highly likely in May.

” The Fixed-term Parliaments Act means that the prime minister can no longer call an election at a time of his choosing. … Elections are held every five years, except when two thirds of the Commons votes for one, or a government loses a vote of confidence and there is no further successful vote within 14 days.

True, a minority-government prime minister could engineer the loss of a vote of no confidence, but they would then run the risk that the main opposition party would establish a new administration and delay the election. Since the prime minister would only attempt to force an election if he thought he would win, the opposition would have every incentive to avoid losing. So that stratagem looks flawed.

The fixed-term act introduces a further difficulty for minority governments, because the timing of an election would now be in the hands of the combined opposition majority. Any loss of a vote of confidence would trigger an election if the government could not scrabble together a majority. A minority government would constantly be at risk of an election being called at a time of the opposition’s choosing.

The opposition strategy would then be clear: let the government flounder. Deny or amend ministerial legislation. Maybe even deprive the government of money. None of this would cause it to fall, because the fixed-term act requires a specific vote of no confidence. When the administration was looking truly shambolic, you force and win a vote of no confidence, calling an election at the point of the governing party’s maximum disadvantage.

What if Ed Miliband and David Cameron begin to dislike the fixed term? What if they were jointly keen to re-establish the prime minister’s prerogative to call general elections? They could, of course, combine to do so. But why would the opposition to a minority government want to hand over control of the timing of the next general election to its principal opponent?

All of which tells me that minority governments will be less popular in future, and that coalitions are more likely to be the response to a hung parliament. And as for hung parliaments, we shall see. If Labour and the Tories are closely competitive, and if Scotland stays part of the union, it will be hard for winner to take all.”

I find it hard to argue with Huhne’s logic.

Mike Smithson

For 11 years viewing politics from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble

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