Political nervous breakdown
Column by Sir Alan Duncan, MP for Rutland and Melton
As if we didn’t have enough trouble already in Parliament, there is one silly thing that is making it much worse. That is the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011. Until then, a Prime Minister could, at any time, call a General Election at the flick of their finger.
When the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition was formed, Nick Clegg wanted to make sure that PM David Cameron was not able to call an election at a time that was good for the Conservatives but bad for the Lib Dems.
They therefore agreed that the Government would run its full five-year term and passed a law to say that two thirds of the Commons had to vote for an election or alternatively the Government would have to have lost a vote of no confidence. They should have ensured that the validity of the law expired in 2015. But they did not.
Because of the Act we now have a situation in which the Prime Minister cannot win any votes in Parliament but still cannot call a General Election. This is the crazy effect of the law. I tried to repeal it in 2015 but failed. Just imagine how much better off we would be today if I had succeeded.
The Prime Minister is in a near impossible situation because he is very boxed in and has little or no room for movement. It seems clear that the Labour Party, despite saying they want a General Election, are delaying in order to inflict as much damage and misery on the Government as they possibly can. But there are other dangers lurking in our political system.
The country is facing a political nervous breakdown with massive division and growing anger. Indeed, the very party system which has existed for perhaps 200 years risks disintegrating. Loyalty to party and mass membership has been eroded and the issue of Brexit, as the European elections clearly showed, cuts across traditional voting patterns.
There is a lesson in this and that lesson is that there is no such thing as a single issue General Election, and nor should the Government ever think that it can set and keep control of an election agenda. People vote in accordance with what they think is important, much more than in line with what the Government thinks matters.
Even the EU referendum was not as straightforward as the question on the ballot paper might have suggested. Of course, the main issue was a straightforward choice between remaining in or leaving the EU, but some people will have voted based on their emotions and opinion of the then Conservative Government who were the main campaigners to stay in.
At a General Election, it is even more complicated and there is no way that its result can be taken as a clear and universally accepted verdict on the EU. It is called a General Election because all constituencies face a contest and manifestos cover all issues.An election might not give us any clear answers.