So Much for Fixed Term Parliaments

Jeremy Corbyn’s acquiescence in an early General Election has confirmed the supposition that if pushed an opposition party would never want to appear to be frightened of going to the country. The result has been to nullify the point of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 except when there is a coalition government. And the concept of the overriding two-thirds majority of members applies also to the Scottish Parliament – indeed it originates in the devolution legislation of 1998. This gives Nicola Sturgeon a precedent should she find it tactically opportune to do the same.
As Scotland, unlike England, already has nationwide local elections on 4 May there will now be an extended campaign in which the starting-point will be the 2016 Holyrood election result. It would be a surprise if many seats changed hands but if you start with one seat, as the Unionist parties do, it is not difficult to double or treble your representation. The SNP might expect to lose a few constituencies in the same way as they did in some of the 2016 Holyrood first-past-the-post contests.
At the UK level, the move is a gamble for May. It is transparently self-serving, inconsistent with previous statements and can easily be portrayed as getting the election out of the way before the bad news starts.  As the 1983 election showed, Labour can survive with a low share of the vote and unlike then it is in a clear second place. Just as many Labour MPs were then glad to give Michael Foot a chance to lose on a left-wing platform so that he could quickly be cleared out, Corbyn’s colleagues have him in their sights. It is also a golden opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to reassert their historical strength in southern England and make progress in rolling back the Conservatives’ near clean-sweep in 2015.
Perhaps parties have been too influenced by Gordon Brown’s cold feet on an early election in September 2007. The issue is less the result than the level of performance against expectations, and in this game the Conservatives and the SNP are the parties with a paradoxical vulnerability.  

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post by Richard Parry
University of Edinburgh
18th April 2017

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