Sunday, May 10, 2015

Will the Tories repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, while they have the numbers to do it?

After almost 48 hours of scratching my head, I've finally managed to convince myself that the BBC are indeed counting John Bercow as a Tory in their summary of the election results.  What confused me is that there's one unspecified 'other' MP listed, which I thought might be the Speaker, but of course I should have realised it's the independent Sylvia Hermon.  So that's good news - it means the de facto government majority (excluding Sinn Féin) is 16 rather than 18.

Government 331
Opposition 315

We've been adjusting to the idea of the SNP having a huge moral mandate but without holding the balance of power, but in fact the arithmetic is tight enough that there must be at least a 50/50 chance that the Tory majority will be wiped out well before the next election.  As even the SNP have discovered at Holyrood, government majorities invariably tend to go down rather than up.  Every by-election defeat, defection or expulsion reduces the majority by 2, so it would take only 8 such events to return us to a hung parliament.  Even after about 6 or so, the arithmetic moves so close to a tie that the concept of majority government ceases to be particularly meaningful - in days gone by, a tiny majority of 5 or less wasn't even considered to be a "working majority".

Historically, what governments without a comfortable majority generally do is look for a favourable moment to call a snap election, after two, three or four years.  Until Thursday, we assumed that option was no longer on the table because of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.  Although the legislation could be repealed by simple majority vote, the theory was that the opposition parties would prevent that happening, because it would never be in their interests to allow the Prime Minister to choose the date of the next election.  But due to the unexpected Tory majority, the opposition parties currently don't have a veto.  Will Cameron take the opportunity while it's there?


  1. Wouldn't the Lords have to agree to it as well? The opposition still have a majority there.

  2. Is it just me or is it strange that the last time the polls apparently "got it wrong" was in 1992 when John Major got back into power? I remember reading an article by Frances Wheen in the Guardian at about that time describing how a friend of his went to vote and was told that his vote had already been cast.

    It seemed that the friend lived in an apartment block and that his polling card had been stolen, along with several others in the block.

    At the time the Tory party seem to have identified a couple of dozen key marginals where very small changes in the votes could swing the seat, and strangely enough there were reports of similar irregularities in many of these key seats.

    I don't know if anyone could help and find this article. It has obviously stayed in my mind for over 20 years. I think that it was in the Saturday magazine section but I may be wrong.

    By the way, can't really believe the lack of coverage by the BBC of the "disturbances" in London. Obviously an irregular verb.

  3. doesn't the fpta need a 2/3 majority to repeal?

    1. I thought it was 2/3 s too. Besides, if they hold the EU reffy they remove UKIP's whole point, so its likely they will get the Conservative defectors back, and in 5 years there is a strong likelihood the world economy will be back on track again too. Labour is likely to tear itself apart in the next year and I suspect the Liberals to disappear as a force. Is 8 MP's enough to sustain them?

      So on the present FPTP system, with a recovering economy, the EU question settled, the boundary revisions that Cleggie stopped Dave from getting in his revenge huff for the AV vote thing, it is not in the Conservatives interest to repeal the act. They are very likely to be in office now for 10 years.

      If - as we hope and pray - the SNP from now on become the dominant force in Scotland until Independence Day, Labour is unlikely to be elected in England for a very long time. And if we secure our freedom, it may be they never get to form the government there again.

    2. No, it only requires a simple majority to repeal. A two-thirds majority to hold an early election is one of the provisions of the Act, but that provision would no longer apply if the Act was repealed.

    3. Does that not make the two-thirds majority part a wee bit pointless?

  4. bad acronym above should have been FPTA

  5. As I have understood it at
    it is up for review ** after ** the 2020 election

    Not sure that precludes repeal of the act itself in this parliament.

    Clearly the tories enacted this in 2011 to protect themselves from possible rebellion by their Libdem partners but probably never envisaged its potential to have given enormous power to the likes of the SNP in the now moot "Labour/SNP deal that wouldnt really have been a deal"

    I suspect they have no further use for it now that they will probably be in power for the next 10 years at least. Labour will be in disarray for a while then revert to Blair 2 in an attempt to appeal to England south of Watford.

  6. More to the point James, does the tory leadership even want to do it?

    For the out of touch tory twits with a short memory, Cameron was defeated on several key issues even with the lib dems supporting him and the tory backbenchers (almost 100 of them keep in mind) almost defeated him on several big Europe votes before he caved in to them.

    There's a reason the weak Cameron was compared to John Major even before this very small majority.

    The chances of Europe not becoming the dominant issue of this parliament for tory backbench MPs this parliament is ZERO.

    Granted, Farage is a fool and could have put the pressure on the tories from day 1 by conceding the leadership to Carswell who absolutely knows how the tory Eurosceptics think. aCarswell would also have been keen to kickstart the EU referendum off as soon as possible. However, no matter how hard Cameron tries to put the issue off or pull yet another fast one on his gullible backbenchers (with some inept posturing on 'concessions' when he fails to get anything meaningful from the 'renegotiations') the EU campaign will start soon enough.

    When the tory split on Europe becomes a chasm (because Cameron and the tory ledaership will lead the campaign to stay IN) he will have to try and force his entire party to toe the party line and support Europe. It's inconceivable that there won't be massive repercussions in the tory partyand that small majority when that happens as we all know the backbenchers and grass roots of the tory party are anything but pro-EU.

    As John Major soon found out a small majority leads to chaos and the possible defeat of a tory government when the red-hot issue of Europe drives the tory party bonkers. That was also when Major wasn't even dealing with something as massive and historic as the whole question of staying IN or OUT of Europe.

    The only thing Cameron has going for him is the ability to buy off some backbenchers with a few minor jobs now that the lib dems are finished. However, those backbenchers will also be looking at the number of votes the kippers got in their constituencies (HUGE number of Kipper second places in England) and the probable repercussions of supporting the party line to stay in Europe. They will also be looking a the kippers regrouping long before 2017 and kickstarting the whole EU referendum campaign.

    The entire reason Cameron had to start banging on about a return to "one nation" toryism is because he is absolutely terrified of all those tory bakbenchers who were promised a return to 'red meat' far-right tory policies if the lib dems were out and the tories got a majority. Well some of them are going to push the fop hard on those promises no matter how much he tries to backtrack on them now.

    It is no coincidence we are also almost certainly dealing with ashamed or 'shy' tories fucking up the polling as that also heralds another return to the John Major years. Those ashamed tory voters might have given Cameron a small majority now but it looks like even Cameron has managed to remember what happened after the tory party got so toxic it's voters were ashamed to admit they voted for them. Hence, all the desperate appeals for a "one nation" style tory party.

    That and Europe creates a perfect storm for backbench rebellions so Cameron and the tory leadership might just be very happy to keep kicking the entire issue down the road.

    Of course it could also be used to placate tory backbenchers along with a few other issues as even the most gullible of the tory Eurosceptics are going to start demanding concessions to keep them distracted from Europe until it can no longer be put off.

  7. John Curtice is busy explaining how his team "called the election right on polling night" and how "rule number to forget anything and everything you have read, seen, or looked at in advance."
    Of course, on his "What Scotland Thinks" website Curtice had been predicting a hung parliament for months just like all the other pollsters.
    If exit polling supercedes the results of all polling done in advance, and produces forecasts that allow pollsters to achieve greater accuracy, why don't we just forget pre-election polling altogether and just do exit polls on the night? Oh, I just realised that would mean we wouldn't really need the likes of Curtice!

    1. To be fair, I think he just meant that he as a pollster has to forget everything that's come before at the moment the exit poll data arrives, otherwise there's a danger of thinking it must be wrong and looking for excuses to tweak it.

  8. Majority support for indy in both Yougov and Survation post election UK poll Scottish subsamples.

    1. A numbers question.....I would be interested to know what the annual change in the yes/no balance might be just due to the demographic changes alone?

      I fully realise that other factors will dominate but still it seems to me that there will be a tick-tock effect simply due to the natural turnover in the electorate. I wonder what contribution that effect might make to the level and the timing of the eventual 'yes' vote?

      Interested to hear in any thoughts on this?

    2. Read in the autumn that 109000 more No voters than Yes voters will die each year for several years, due to the higher support for No among older voters.

    3. Off the top of my head, I don't see how that figure can be right - the population of Scotland is just over 5 million, and life expectancy is around 80. Far fewer than 109,000 people should be dying per year.

    4. I think this is a process of sudden shifts. Scotland seems to be waking up in stages, with each stage being quite dramatic.

      We saw the first in May 2011, when Scotland decided to give the SNP an overall majority in Holyrood.

      We could have seen the ultimate shift in late August/early September 2014 when there was the beginning of a decision to go for independence. I felt it on 30th August, without any doubt. It was strangled by the following two weeks of fear-napalming from the right-wing press and the BBC, culminating in the Vow, but the potential is still there.

      The second stage happened for real later in September when the opinion polls recorded a seismic shift to the SNP. That decision was ratified last week, to an even greater extent that most people had imagined. We've got the Westminster vote now too.

      I think events in the coming Westminster administration are going to cause the independence opinion polls to do something similar, and maybe very suddenly.

      2011 gave us 45%.
      2014/5 gave us 50%.

      We need 55% for the ultimate prize, but we're already hovering around the 50% mark. When the independence opinion polls start showing over 55% regularly and consistently, Nicola needs to be ready for it. I don't think she'll let us down, she wants this as much as we do.

    5. Well, whaddaya know. The Scottish subsample in the Survation poll James reports in his next post is almost at 55% Yes with the don't knows removed (54.7%) OK, it's a subsample, but it's also a straw in the wind.

      I wonder if the very fact of last week's landslide might start the final tipping of the independence question? We've got the perfect storm. 56 SNP MPs, unable to do much to mitigage the worst excesses of a rampant, cuts-mad Tory government. Cameron was wrong when he said Nicola wanted a Tory government, but the underlying truth that this could be the last straw for the independence waverers who hadn't quite shaken off the notion that Scotland was safer with Westminster looking after it, hasn't gone away.

      I always had a feeling that the "something big has to change" before a second referendum could be considered, could include a shift in public opinion itself. How can Cameron look at opinion polls consistently over 55% and sometimes touching 60% for independence, and flatly deny another referendum? He'll try of course, but it's not going to look like democracy.

      I was looking for a shopping bag yesterday, and accidentally pulled out the bag we were given at the 2012 SNP conference, emblazoned "Scotland: it's starting". Hmmm. Opinion polls steadily showing an independence majority by the autumn, and another referendum in the 2016 Holyrood manifesto. I could live with that.

    6. I saw that 109000 pa figure go unchallenged in several places late last year but you're probably right, James. Annual Scottish deaths are probably in the mid tens of thousands.

    7. Just wondering if you guys are remembering to factor in births to the overall population demographic?

    8. Further to my earlier post... data sets are here

    9. It's not so much births, but the people who are turning 16. We'd need to know whether they're as keen on independence as the people slightly older than them.

    10. I agree with Rolfe that seismic shifts in viewpoints will dominate.

      But still I wonder about the 'tick tock' effect (I'm wearing my anorak!)

      Here is my go at it. 55k subtraction per year, 55k new arrivals on the voting register. Say the subtractions favour 'no' by 2:1 and the new arrivals favour 'yes' by 2:1 that suggests roughly an annual 40k swing (+20k onto 'yes', -20k reduction for 'no'. That seems like ten years to close the 400k difference in yes/no.

    11. Oh those stats are so depressing. About 30000 No voters drop out every year to be replaced by about 22000 net new Yes voters. Its going to take us 10 years right enough to have a demographic majority. I was planning for that, but hoped I was pessimistic :(

    12. Och...sorry not meant to be depressing!

      Actually maybe it is a pointless question I have posed. Rolfe's post above is the right perspective - there will be seismic shifts in voter intentions due to future events (7 May 2015 may well turn out to have been one of these events). Those big shifts will affect things much quicker than gradual changes in the electorate ever will.

      Still we want to win the next one comfortably (for social harmony) so it would be nice to know that a gradual change was on our side as well as any future seismic changes.

    13. It's not just a question of people dropping off the end while new ones come in though.

      The entire electorate ages, and there is (on average) a slight, but somewhat natural rightward drift as people age. The youth are always slightly more radical than their elders, no matter what generation gets surveyed or polled.

    14. It's always a mistake to calculate on the assumption that people's voting opinions are fixed and you have to wait for death to take them out of the equation. Imagine what would have happened last year, if the Scottish Labour party had been pro-independence. Or even if they had been neutral, pointing out pros and cons to the voters. We'd have won at a canter.

      I'm not suggesting that the Scottish Labour party is about to come out for independence, but it's an example of the sort of thing that can cause an extremely significant shift in the baseline vote.

  9. Thank you James for your site which is my first visit of the day.
    Never dreamed we would see the back of SLAB so SNP planning must be astute but I worry by nature. I think you may be on to something. Whitehall likes to baffle everyone with the small print in legislation and use the unwritten constitution. I thought Peter Hennessy would have a comment but he is now Establishment in the Lords. SNP has a real handicap with support staff reporting every move to London where they hope to go on promotion and the sheer power of Whitehall and Treasury (shameless Civil Service Awards).
    Speaking of money I can’t see why more cash (oil fund London property tax Barnet Formula Max) is not mentioned as part of Smith. Treasury is all for changes provided they do not mean outflow FROM England and would like a reduction hoping for SNP implosion/unpopularity linked to new powers.
    As part of money issue I think it should be put to the Establishment now particularly giving up oil from Scotland in the event of independence; just to see it agreed.

  10. The DUP and UUP will easily support the Tories, giving them a much more comfortable majority. Ashcroft is already urging the Tories to repeal the FTPA as well as redrawing constituency boundaries to favour themselves. I consider both strategies will be an early priority for Cameron.

    1. If the 1992-97 parliament is anything to go by, the DUP can probably be relied upon to back the Tories in confidence votes, but they won't be shy about voting down individual Tory policies that are unpopular in Northern Ireland. At the end of the day, they're populists.