There’s a lot of talk in Westminster about how interesting this election is going to be. It’s true – it is shaping up to be the most unpredictable general election in recent memory, and not just in terms of who ends up prime minister in May. The SNP-Labour fight in Scotland; how UKIP will do; how many seats the Lib Dems can hold on to; where the Green vote goes.
Problem is, there’s not a whole lot of exciting stuff happening in politics just this second. I know there’s some stuff happening: the HSBC thing, Ed Miliband v Lord Fink, the pink van whoopla. But it still doesn’t feel like eye of the storm material. We are at the end of what has become a lame duck parliamentary session, which accounts for most of this dreary feeling. Normally if a government thought they were very possibly on the way out there would be a flurry of parliamentary activity right about now, like we saw in 2010. For many reasons, that isn’t the case this time round.
It all feels like the uneasy quiet before a hurricane at present. I suppose such a lull was inevitable in a fixed term, five-year parliament – everyone knows what’s coming and wants to preserve their strength.
Some will no doubt point to the Fixed Term Parliament Act and say that it’s that little bill’s entire fault. The fact that the prime minster of the day cannot keep us on ours toes with the power to call an election whenever he or she feels like it, making the whole process wearily predictable. But I disagree: it’s not a problem with having fixed term parliaments per se – I think taking the power out of the executive’s hands is still a good thing. It’s just that five years is too long. So I say let’s have four-year parliaments instead. It fits much better with the rhythm of the House of Commons and history bears this out. Any five-year parliament the UK has ever suffered really ran out of steam in the final year.
Will we get four-year parliaments anytime soon? I doubt it. The reason being the whole turkeys voting for Christmas routine. Why would MPs want to take a year off their contract, which is essentially what moving to a four-year term would boil down to from their perspective? You never know – strage things can happen in politics, particularly in a multi-party era. But I wouldn’t place a bet on it happening in the near future.
So it looks like every five years we’ll be stuck with a very long, drawn out general election campaign in which everyone feels like more should be happening than actually will for several months. I suppose we’ll find someway to cope, like making fun of cerise coloured vans while we wait for the first Thursday of May to arrive.