Fixed term Parliaments

The Fixed Term Parliaments Act, 2011: This ended the prime minister's historic power to choose the date of a general election by establishing that a new parliament must be elected on a fixed date, at five-year intervals. An earlier contest can be held only if two-thirds of MPs vote for one, or if a prime minister loses a vote of no confidence and fails to form a new government within a 14-day period. This reform suited the interests of both partners in the coalition by giving the government a guaranteed period in which to implement their programme, free from speculation about the date of the next election.

Fixed-term Parliaments For and Against


The major criticism of the traditional system of flexible-term elections is that they gave the prime minister, and there- fore the governing party, a significant and unfair advantage at election time. In particular, prime ministers can use their power to dissolve Parliament to call an election at a time that is most favourable to their own party, as indicated by polling trends. This creates a bias in favour of the government’s re-election and puts opposition parties at a further disadvantage, in that they are forced to plan their election strategies by trying to second-guess the prime minister. Fixed-term Parliaments are therefore a way of ensuring electoral fairness. avoiding needless speculation.

Flexible-term Parliaments, in which prime ministers can call ‘snap’ elections, create ongoing and unhelpful speculation about the date of the next election. Political debate therefore focuses, unhelpfully and unnecessarily, on the government of the day’s strategy for re-election, rather than on the strengths and weaknesses of its policy programme. The introduction of fixed-term Parliaments would, at a stroke, reduce distractions and trivial speculation.

Greater stability. Uncertainty about the date of the next election creates an unstable political and economic environment. Governments that know that they are going to serve a full term in office have the time to develop policies carefully and implement them fully, with- out their policy programme being interrupted by a surprise election. Similarly, business is able to plan for the longer term in the knowledge that possible changes in government, and therefore changes in government policy, can only occur at set and predictable intervals.


Benefits to the government of the day. Regardless of fixed-term Parliaments, electoral unfairness will persist because governments can still structure their policy programme to ensure that, at the end of their term in office, circumstances are as favourable as possible to their re-election. Unpopular and ‘tough’ policies can therefore be rolled out at the beginning of a Parliament, in the knowledge that the government will not have to face the verdict of the electorate until its full term has elapsed.

Similarly, prime ministers and governments may well benefit from not being drawn into playing games with the opposition about the date of the next election (as Brown found in 2007). longer campaigns. One of the advantages of flexible-term Parliaments is that a lack of knowledge about the date of the next election means that electoral campaigns are relatively short, usually three to four weeks in length. Knowing the date of the next election many years in advance may simply mean, as in the USA, that election campaigns start earlier, possibly a year before the election itself. The final period of a fixed-term Parliament may there- fore, effectively, be devoted to electioneering.

A particular criticism of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2001 in the UK is the decision to institute five-yearly terms which are longer than those instituted elsewhere (Australia and New Zealand have three-year terms, and the Canadian Federal Legislature has a four- year term). Although Parliament used to have a five-year maximum term, in practice Parliaments were much shorter (on average, just over three years and nine months between 1945 and 2010). Longer Parliaments mean that government is less responsive to the electorate.

2017 and 2019 Elections show that in reality there are no fixed term elections since the government was able to cause an election. It's true that Boris Johnson had his desire for an election delayed but it still happened long before it was due in 2022. Opposition parties find it almost impossible to refused a request for an election.