Five years between elections 'too long', says Tory MP

The most predictable element of this year's unpredictable general election is the date.

Even that would change if a Welsh Conservative MP has his way. Glyn Davies is one of a growing number of MPs who believe the Fixed Term Parliaments Act should be repealed.

Under the act, the election date is set for May 7, five years after the last poll. Previously, the date was in the gift of the prime minister of the day, who could choose to go for the maximum five years (as Gordon Brown did) or a shorter term (Margaret Thatcher went for four years).

One of the reasons the issue has risen up the agenda is the prospect of an inconclusive result in May. In the olden days (well, 1974) a prime minister might seek to govern as a minority before going to the polls again a few months later. Under the current legislation, an early election would only be possible "if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is found or if a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the House or without division."

Former Tory minister Sir Alan Duncan has called for a cross-party agreement to repeal the legislation, making any change effective from May 8. A YouGov poll for The Times' Red Box asked a representative group of 100 MPs how they would vote if there was a free vote on the issue.

The Times reports: "Only 42 per cent of MPs would vote to keep fixed term parliaments as they are (including all the Lib Dem and minor party MPs polled). Of the rest, 41 per cent of MPs polled would vote to repeal the act and return things to how they were pre-2010, when the government could choose when to call an election. This includes 59 per cent of Conservative MPs.

"A further 15 per cent of MPs would keep parliaments fixed term, but alter the act to make the terms four years instead of five."

Montgomeryshire MP Mr Davies said: "Five years is too long a period between general elections in Britain. There is a long established natural rhythm in British politics based on elections being held every four years - or when a prime minister believes the government of the day needs a new mandate. In my view, reverting back to shorter parliaments would mean more voter interest and better public debate.

"Britain has never had fixed-term parliaments in the past, and in any event, five years between general elections is too long. The current legislation creates considerable inflexibility for both the electorate and present-day governments, and is in fact disruptive to the actual business of parliament."

He added: "The act's provisions are due to be reviewed in 2020, but with the criticisms we are seeing from MPs and commentators alike, it would be better for any changes to be made as soon as possible."

If the act were to be repealed, it might yet mean that election campaigns got shorter again. This year's unofficial campaign may last four months but with parliament due to be dissolved on March 30 the official campaign will still last five and a half weeks. Brace yourself.

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