26 September 2007

Would fixed terms make much difference?

Doesn't Germany have fixed term elections? And yet didn't the governing party engineer an early election simply by losing a confidence vote on an unimportant issue. How could we stop governments from doing this?...

I always find fixed that or fixed this arguments quite strange especially when they are usually advanced by the sort of 'libertarian' people who baulk at any sort of legislation in any other area.

Take the opportunist attempt to impose a two term limit on Ken Livingstone by the Lib Dems and Tories in the unelected House of Lords, simply it seems, because they cannot beat him at the ballot box!

Just imagine if the two term limit had not been in place in the US, we might have had a third term Clinton administration and no Iraq war or George 'Dubya' Bush! I do not see the logic in ideas that restrict the electorate's choice. It seems to stem from the worst type of John Stuart Mill brand of liberalism [4th paragraph] that fails to trust the electorate at all - thinking them too ill educated to make a decision about when a change is needed.


  1. I sort of agree. Even the best-intentioned rule will either a) be circumvented or b) lead to damaging distortions.

    But setting a maximum limit of 4 or 5 years between elections seems fair anough.

  2. We already have a maximum limit of five years (which seems to have become de-facto 4 years to reduce the impact of special interest groups holding governments to ransom in an election run in) - which I think is about right. Governments have to be able to allowed some time to develop policies and demonstrate to the electorate any progress (or not).

  3. Sanbikinorian had an even better idea, have a rolling election so that every year, one-in-four constituencies has an election.

    To avoid the 'special interests' problem, the constituencies on each cycle would have to be spread evenly between rich and poor, industrial and rural areas and so on.

  4. I think having a government constantly on election alert would be bad for long term planning. Even the current term limit affects this.

    Think of the congestion charge, very unpopular when first muted and introduced, but once up and running people liked the benefits. Governments need to be able to take unpopular decisions in the short term and allowed enough time for them to show fruits of that policy. Rolling elections I think would deny that chance.

  5. This is also true. But is that such a bad thing, if governments do more gradual incremental stuff?

    But C-charge is a different topic, of course a Mayor would be elected for four years.

    In any event, I'm all in favour of delegating everything down to local level. Central governments should do a lot less.