Back in 2010 the coalition government between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats were so concerned that things would collapse they introduced the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) to give certainty to when a general election for the UK Parliament could be called. No more a case of the Prime Minister visiting the palace to see Her Majesty to request one; instead the power moved to Parliament itself and a two-thirds majority vote.
It was assumed that if a government was so reviled, so hated, and so opposed that getting a two-thirds majority would be easy and way to fend off more frivolous attempts. As it happens, that assumption was soon put to the test when the Labour Party refused to vote for an early general election. It calculated, probably accurately, that doing so would cause it to suffer heavy losses in the field of an election campaign due to its position on the Brexit debate. The FTPA didn’t foresee Brexit and it’s massive complications, after all.
Tomorrow, 6th July, sees the second reading of the Bill that, if passed, will repeal the FTPA. Power will once again return to Her Majesty to use her prerogative powers to dissolve the UK Parliament if she so wishes, usually at the recommendation of her Prime Minister.
The Bill should attract cross-party support. A House of Commons Library report says:
In its manifesto for the December 2019 General Election, the Conservative Party said that it would “get rid of” the FTPA, as it had “led to paralysis at a time the country needed decisive action”. The Labour Party’s manifesto also committed to repeal the Act, saying it had “ stifled democracy and propped up weak governments”.
If you look to Twitter you will be able to see some conspiracy theories abound at the timing of the repeal of the FTPA juxtaposed against a public inquiry into COVID-19. I don’t believe the two should be conflated. The Batley & Spen by-election has shown us that the theory upon which this conspiracy is based is somewhat disproven: it’s just not a given that the Conservative Party would be able to sweep up former Labour strongholds in the Midlands and North, whilst data suggests that the Labour Party was able to make inroads in Batley & Spen’s areas that are normally Conservative-leaning.
The timing then of a general election, though tantalising to talk about, is also an irrelevance to the major issues such as COVID-19 and even Brexit. Whether a general election is called in 2022, 2023, or 2024 the Conservative Party in all areas must be ready, and should be building on our successes and high water mark from 2019. We know from Batley & Spen that this is exactly what the Labour Party will be doing.