Fixed Term Parliaments

Written By: - Date published: 4:50 pm, May 26th, 2015 - 25 comments
Categories: electoral systems, Parliament, political parties, Politics, social democracy - Tags: , , ,

Here’s the link to the UK legislation. It was brought in by the Tories and Lib/Dems to safeguard against one of the coalition partners (Lib/Dems) being done over by the other (Tories). It has had some unintended and rather positive consequences.

With a fixed term parliament, no sitting government can game an an upcoming election by choosing a date that coincides with propitious events. Election dates are set.

With a fixed term parliaments act there is no need for backroom deals to cobble coalitions or confidence and supply arrangements…and no wee shits scrambling for any beads of office.

Here’s how it works.

A party gains 50% + of a parliamentary vote to form the next government. Unless a given percentage (75% in the UK) of parliament subsequently votes to dissolve parliament after a discrete and precisely worded vote of ‘no confidence’, the term of parliament plays out.

If a government fails to get 50%+ approval for a budget, or any other piece of legislation, it simply goes away, looks at the parliamentary arithmetic and tweaks its proposals in such a way as to ensure 50%+ of the parliamentary vote.

There are a few things worth noting.

With no need for coalitions, the infantile fixation by media on ‘five headed hydra’s’ or instability and such like, disappears. And with no ‘baubles of office’ up for grabs the influence of the Winston Peter’s and Peter Dunne’s of this world diminishes.

If we look at the Clark government of 2002 under fixed term legislation, obviously, a snap election couldn’t have been called in the first place. But much more importantly, The Progressives (2 seats) and United Future (8 seats) couldn’t have elevated their influence to the detriment of the Greens (9 seats) and NZ First (13 seats).

Presumably, Labour would have formed the government having gained a 50%+ parliamentary vote of confidence. Labour would then have filled all cabinet posts and brought its programme to the floor of parliament. If necessary, there would have been honest and transparent changes, on an issue by issue basis, made to any Labour proposal that couldn’t gather 50% + of votes.

Sometimes, that would have meant Labour negotiating with either of the Greens, NZFirst, UF, The Progressives or any combination thereof.

All parties, at least initially, get to maintain their core policy positions – including the government party. There is far less scope for horse-trading, stand-over tactics or pork barrelling. For example, it’s possible (I’m not saying this actually happened) that the Greens had their influence diminished in relation to other parties in 2002 as a consequence of refusing to compromise their position on GE. Under a Fixed Term Parliament, the Greens could have held that position and it would have had no detrimental impact on their influence within parliament.

Unlike at present, any negotiations arising from ‘issue by issue’ politics would more likely be in the open; they wouldn’t be carried out behind closed doors or in draughty corridors by parties otherwise ‘gagged’ or ‘bought off’ by formal arrangements.

Now, wouldn’t that be good for the public’s perception of parliamentary governance, particularly when casting an eye on matters such as openness and honesty? I don’t know what NZ media would do if they were robbed of their ‘Kingmaker’ headlines though….

25 comments on “Fixed Term Parliaments”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    Interesting as this shows the possibility of getting rid of Cabinet which I think would be a great step towards better, more transparent, democracy.

    • Colonial Rawshark 1.1

      yeah and gets rid of a large part of the careerism and party arselicking which goes on as MPs try and jockey for position.

    • weka 1.2

      “the possibility of getting rid of Cabinet”

      How so?

    • Bill 1.3

      Hmm. I don’t think it points to a possibility of Cabinets disappearing. Parliament and all parliamentary parties operate hierarchically. Cabinet is an integral part of that.

      At pains of throwing an oxymoron into the mix, what it does do is protect the integrity of parliamentary parties and ensure their influence is more in keeping with their vote share.

      What I forgot to mention in the post is that minor parties have potentially much more power in a Fixed Parliament sitting outside of government than they do at present sitting inside government.

  2. weka 2

    Are cabinet posts filled by MPs from the governing party only, or can they use other MPs as well?

    • Bill 2.1

      If it wants to try and form a coalition, it can. If it wants to reach a confidence and supply arrangement, it can.

      That means that if the governing party wanted to offer a cabinet position to another party, it could.

      But a minor party would be kind of mad to take up such offers. They retain much more power and influence by not getting into bed with the governing party.

      • Colonial Rawshark 2.1.1

        People did try and tell Nick Clegg

        • Bill

          Well, no CV. The Tory – Lib/Dem coalition pre-dated the Fixed Term Parliaments Act – when governments fell on simple majority votes.

          What the Lib/ems should have done back then, was to go into coalition with Labour, as people expected of them, instead of wanking on about the largest party having some moral mandate and going with the Tories on that basis.

      • weka 2.1.2

        “But a minor party would be kind of mad to take up such offers. They retain much more power and influence by not getting into bed with the governing party.”

        I’m not quite seeing that. The GP and Mana would have no more power than now if Labour could get support from NZF and UF. In that scenario the mainn difference is we’re locked into a fixed term of neoliberal centrist beige-esque hell with no chance of anyone crossing the floor or removing C and S. Or am I missing something?

        • Bill

          Anyone going into a coalition has to compromise and ‘hold their council’ on various matters. There’s a commitment made to presenting a ‘face of government’ and the government falls if the commitment breaks down. (Cue the wheeling and dealing and the bluffing/double bluffing and the rise of the lowest common denominator)

          Even the Green party got gagged by National when they signed that MoU last time around.

          If, on your example, Labour could go a full term with NZF and UF in coalition and are willing to accept all the compromises they would have to make with those two parties, and those two parties are willing to make similar compromises, then sure.

          But why would Labour do that when they could, if smart, pick and choose what to alter on an issue by issue basis by acquiescing to whichever party’s demands it loses least face with, or that sees its business go through with least change? Incidentally, that could see them actually being pushed further and enacting bolder legislation than they otherwise would.

          Of course, taking the example to its logical end, minor parties have less parliamentary power when faced by a majority government.

          Meanwhile, Mana were never going to be seen as a viable coalition partner by Labour and so (arguably) Labour felt justified in undermining them. That motivation doesn’t exist under a Fixed Term Parliament.

          • Matthew Whitehead

            When were the Green party gagged by the MoU with National?

            • Bill

              From the MoU from 2009 (and bear in mind that the Nats were the more powerful partner)

              Both Parties agree:

              To keep the details of working discussions confidential until negotiations are concluded, whether the result ends in agreement or

              And right there was the incentive for the Nats to not conclude, or delay the conclusion of any negotiations and bind the Greens in silence for the time being.


              Joint statements will be made on steps delivered in the Strategies where we have worked co-operatively.

              Joint statements will be made on
              progress in implementing the new regulatory system

              Again, the Greens cannot say anything without ‘permission’ of the Nats – they, the Nats, essentially got into a position where they called the shots.

              • Colonial Rawshark

                I think the Greens would be allowed to make statements which weren’t joint.

          • Kiwiri

            typo? you mean ‘hold their counsel’?

      • Draco T Bastard 2.1.3

        But a minor party would be kind of mad to take up such offers. They retain much more power and influence by not getting into bed with the governing party.

        Which is what opens up the possibility of getting rid of Cabinet.

        At the moment Cabinet is made up of ministers drawn from the MPs of the governing coalition. Each party, though, has their own spokesperson for the role.

        Taking that into account we give each party spokesperson the same power and accountability as a minister, essentially, associate ministers. Most notably they have the same access to the government department as the Minister. They each get the same briefings at the same time and the actions of one are reported to the others. Ministerial decisions made are made between all of them (weighted by their party’s vote).

        A more open process than the present behind closed doors system that we have now.

        • Bill

          Draco – that’s a mess of unnecessary complexity. Let the governing party submit its business and successfully argue for it or have it rejected. Simple is as simple does.

  3. DS 3

    The Fixed Term Parliament Act is a godawful idea.

    Essentially what it means is that you need the consent of the two biggest parties to have an early election. Sounds fine… until you realise that it creates a hypothetical situation where no-one can get a budget through. Under the current system, an election would be forced, but under the FTPA, there is no necessary dissolution of Parliament. *The country would go into a US-style Government shutdown as the Government runs out of money*.

    This is a greater danger in a system like ours, where minority government is the norm.

    • Bill 3.1

      until you realise that it creates a hypothetical situation where no-one can get a budget through

      If a budget fails to get 50%+, then governing party goes away and with an eye to the arithmetic of parliament, changes aspects of its budget. There is no deadlock, hypothetical or otherwise.

      If it was the case that parliament had lost confidence in the government, then it can dissolve parliament with a majority vote. In the UK it sits at 75% of seats, but there’s no reason why NZ couldn’t set that at 66% or whatever.

      • Colonial Rawshark 3.1.1

        The whole idea of MPs and Parties sitting down and talking with each other in order to run the country (instead of yelling at each other from opposite sides of the chamber) appears to be an alien concept to many.

  4. hoom 4

    I don’t like it.
    Coalitions are important & a good idea in my opinion.

    Has potential to leave a hung Parliament incapable of doing anything for years.
    I’d rather have a new Election.

    • Colonial Rawshark 4.1

      This legislation forces minority governments to talk to all the smaller parties. It prevents a minority government from locking in smaller parties via ‘coalition agreements’ which give the smaller parties a few small concessions here and there in exchange for supporting absolutely the rest of the minority government’s agenda. And it prevents a single minority party (think NZ First or Peter Dunne or ACT) from holding a gun to the head of the minority government.

      BTW it’s not going to lead to a “hung Parliament” any more than the current system is, and as Bill pointed out, there is a fail safe to force re-elections if a super majority of MPs agree in a vote of no confidence.

    • Bill 4.2

      Why do you think coalitions are good?

      There is no chance of a hung government being unable to do business under a Fixed Term parliaments Act btw.

      What it gives us is a fluid and responsive legislative environment that tends to better reflect the voters will as expressed through parties elected.

  5. Rich 5

    The UK system does allow for a motion of no confidence. If a new government is not formed and wins a confidence motion within 14 days, then there is an election.

    (This could be achieved by a governing party voting no confidence in itself).

    Also, a 2/3 majority can call an early election.

    • Bill 5.1

      Yup. That’s summarised in the post. As I wrote in one of the comments, if 75% is too high (I suspect it is) then 66% or 2/3rds could be the bar.

      Something no-one seems to be focusing on is that the whole parliamentary environment is changed and becomes more transparent and ‘honest’.

      Minor parties generally have a parliamentary influence that better reflects their success at the ballot box and no-one has to issue ‘bottom lines’ or ‘red lines’ or ‘lines in the sand’ with regards their support for a major party’s business.

      In the example I chose in the post (2002) it’s feasible to entertain the idea that the Greens were kicked into the long grass because of GE. Under a Fixed Term, that wouldn’t have happened. The Greens, UF, NZFirst and the Progressives would have had influence on any given piece of business in relation to the seats they had won.

      Labour for its part, wouldn’t have had to make a call on which coalition make-up was better. They’d just have got on with putting their business through parliament and pulled back aspects of their business or been pushed further on aspects of their business depending on the parliamentary arithmetic.

      No horse trading, dirty dealing or what have you, prior to government being formed. No elevation of the lowest common denominator in order to form a coalition. No side-lining of minor parties that stood by their principles.

      And no infantile msm fixating on ‘kingmakers’ or whipping up fear shit about possible cabinet seats going to the Greens or whatever and so on.

      I can’t see a down side, and have found that anyone who takes the time to think it through can’t see a down side either.

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