Nick Clegg – Smiling For Now – Photo by Alex Folkes/Fishnik Photography via Flickr
The Government’s “Fixed Term Parliaments Bill” has passed its final hurdle. The House of Lords agreed to back it after the Government agreed to insert a clause that subjects the provision to review in 2020.
The Prime Minister of the day currently has the power to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament and call an election, whenever he or she sees fit. This new Bill will create fixed five year parliamentary terms. (Parliament could, however, be dissolved if the Government lost a No Confidence motion.)
This clearly takes away from David Cameron the ability to call an election. In turn, this removes an enormous bargaining chip from his hand. At the moment, he can threaten the Liberal Democrats that if they don’t agree to something or other, he will call an election. With the Lib Dems languishing on under 10% in the opinion polls, and likely to lose a swathe of seats in any early election, that is a situation they want to avoid at all costs.
Once this Bill becomes law, that threat will no longer be available to Mr Cameron. In future, the only way he could call an election would be to ask for a vote of “No Confidence” in his own Government – and even then, Labour could hoist his petard by joining the Liberal Democrats in voting against!
Mr Cameron and the Tories, therefore, have lost the power to insist on any policy in their own Government. The Liberal Democrats now effectively have a complete veto over all areas of policy.
What is even worse for the Tories is that they cannot even give it all up and go for an election. They are now forced on the Liberal Democrats’ pleasure to stagger on for the full term until 2015, all the while unable to do anything the Lib Dems don’t like. It is going to be a long three and a half years for the Tories.
By contrast, the Lib Dems still have the power to have an election whenever they like, simply by walking out of the Coalition and precipitating a “No Confidence” motion. They therefore have the power to blackmail the Tories with this threat, to ensure they get what they want out of the Coalition.
For the next couple of years, this gives the Liberal Democrats enormous power, more than they have had for around a century.
In the long run, however, it is likely to do them little good. As the downward drift in their fortunes continues, the later the election comes, the worse their battering is likely to be. With their opinion poll ratings at their current levels, and continuing to drift down, and with UKIP ratings on the rise, there is every prospect of UKIP overtaking them as Britain’s third party at the next general election when it finally comes.
The Lib Dems should enjoy their power while it lasts.