Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Gordon's Snap Election?
One of the controversial powers of a prime minister is the ability to call an election whenever they want. We may think we're electing five year parliaments, but not if the premier of the day prefers to go earlier. The usual reason for this - as exercised by Thatcher and Blair - is to assure a victory while polls are high, instead of waiting for the unpredictability of another year.
There is another reason, and it's being discussed at the moment. All three parties are preparing for a possible snap election as early as next year on the grounds that Gordon Brown, if elected as new Labour leader, might want to capitalise on the novelty and not wait for disillusionment to set in. He would also be keen to get his own mandate.
It's an odd call this, as on the one hand it seems the very essence of democracy that a leader elected by a party should then seek a wider mandate. Our parliamentary system, however, doesn't operate like this. We don't elect prime minsisters, we elect representatives for a period of five years. We do not ask for, and certainly don't get, a guarantee that the party will keep the same leader for the 5 year duration; we do ask that representatives continue to exercise their judgement about the laws they pass, and stick to the broad manifesto they offered at the general election. A change of leader doesn't necessarily mean a change of political direction. Perhaps we also ask that they don't subject us to an abuse of their power to call elections when it suits them?