Monday, 11 May 2009

You ain't going nowhere

Have finally cracked open the (18 month old) West Wing box set, although had to resort to watching in on my (very small) laptop because the DVD player refused to cooperate. (And yes, I do think it's personal. Technology has a grudge against me, which manifests itself at every given opportunity. I don't know why, but it does. The only reason I'm blogging now is because the TV has also decided to stop working too, so I can't watch the news which I hope is about the Tories, not us).

The fleeting possibility that just maybe there's someone out there at this very moment being lined up to replace Damian McBride in the Downing Street press corps who looks exactly like Sam Seaborn is the only thing that has kept me from jumping off the balcony this weekend, which has of course been profoundly depressing on all fronts. Although I would settle for Josh Lynam.

Also on the subject of American politics, did you see Obama do his comedy routine in front of the press corps? Nailed it. Naturally. Doesn't he always? He said his first 100 days had been such a success that they were going to complete the next 100 days in 72. And on the 73rd day, he would rest. And there was a joke about Hilary and swine flu, but more about that in a moment.

All this has got me thinking. In the USA the President is the President is the President. Nothing short of impeachment or death can stop him being President until his term of office is over. OK, there's a theoretical possibility as he approaches the end of his first term that his party could dump him for someone more popular, but it's a remote one. Which means - or at least it seems to me from where I'm sitting - that you remove at one stroke all the endless speculation about leadership and challenges and rivalries that is such an obsession of the British political chattering classes.

Take the joke Obama made about Hilary Clinton last night. He said that although they'd been rivals during the primaries, they'd grown a lot closer; she'd given him a great big hug when she got back from Mexico and said that he should pay it a visit too. Now imagine what the press reaction would have been if Gordon Brown had made the same joke about David Miliband...

What impact would it have on British politics if we had fixed term parliaments, a maximum two terms in office for a Prime Minister, and a rule that the party in Government could not change its leader except at election time? Which I appreciate would rule out the Blair/ Brown handover in 2006, although it would almost certainly have meant a Blair/ Brown handover in 2005 and a clear mandate for Gordon from the electorate.

I'm not actually an advocate of fixed parliaments, as I can't see what would happen if no one party got a majority - would you have to limp on for four years trying to hold a coalition together? But still.... I'd give an awful lot to get away from the endless sniping and speculation and gossip - most of it totally uninformed and inaccurate, but damaging nonetheless - about leadership ambitions and potential coups and backbench plotting that we have at the moment.


westcoast2 said...

I'd give an awful lot to get away from the endless sniping and speculation and gossip - most of it totally uninformed and inaccurate, but damaging nonetheless - about leadership ambitions and potential coups and backbench plotting that we have at the moment.And this doesn't happen in the US? The Presedential campaign carried on for nearly 2 years, more if you include the planning to be a candidate.

Fixed parliaments seem to be a way out, yet the ups and downs of political fortune mean that the election could come when some serious decicion making needs to be taken.

This may lead (as if it didn't already) to more populist policies.

Let's say the government is behind in the polls and needs to take an important but electorally potentially damaging decision on some issue, say the need to raise taxes because of some economic problem.

With a fixed term, the decision could be put off, thus worsening the situation.

This situation could arise close to the end of a 5 year flexible system, which would be unfortunate.

Of course our current system also allows an unpopular government to continue. The unpopularity can occur for many reasons. One, almost guaranteed though, is the cognitive dissonance that sets in after the honeymoon. We will see this with Obama and with whichever government gets in next time here.

Should the unpopularity persist and pressure mount then there is a possibility of a change, this is not possible in fixed terms.

Dick the Prick said...

Fixed parliament's are unworkable. We'd have to be a Republic really and I don't think anyone wants that particularly. It's perhaps one of the best aspects of Parliament - it's like a super tanker in motion but it can work immediately when it needs to.

We've established through a 1,000 years of war & law how Parliament itself operates. What wasn't expected was a perfect storm but that's how politics operates. It's time to sort out candidates and it will be bloggers & campaigners who'll publicize this. The Lib Dems are opportunistic campaigners but it's each candidate for themselves. Cool.

I just want Lloyd George back - a Parliamentarian with a job to do. I'm remain optimistic.

Pete said...

Nope - I'm agin.

Firstly fixed parliaments don't do away with the personalities and politicking. Have we forgotten the 18 months leading up to the last US election already?

Secondly a Prime Minister is not a president. A president has her own powers, staff and areas of authority. A president can lead the US with both Senate and Congress having majorities for "the other" party. Not so a PM.

Thirdly it is sometimes right and proper that a political leader is replaced - because they've done something really bad, or simply because times have changed. In both World Wars Britain replaced the PM in place at the start - how would we have fared with Asquith as PM in WW1, Chamerlain WW2?

Fixed parliaments remove one big (theoretical, at least) advantage from the government of the day.