With talk of hung Parliaments and slim majorities in the air (and filling up social media feeds), there’s also speculation about whether there’ll be not one, but two general elections as whoever is Prime Minister after May then seeks a snap election and more seats later in the year.
Some of the speculation is made by people who appear to have been asleep for the last five years and so missed the introduction of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. That took away the ability of a Prime Minister to unilaterally pick whichever election date most suits their own party.
A Prime Minister without an overall majority couldn’t trigger an election under its terms. They could quit, but under these new rules someone else then first gets a chance to form a government – and if they do, there’s no election. And of course, the just-quit PM, being in a minority, couldn’t then block someone else from forming a government.
But what about a PM with a slim majority, seeking a later snap election to turn it into a functioning working majority that could last for a full Parliament? They could force a repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act through the House of Commons. But then there’s the little matter of the House of Lords – where no party has a majority.
How would the PM persuade the Lords to repeal a piece of legislation in the face of attacks about how they are trying to rig the election just to suit their own narrow political self-interest? Especially when repealing the Fixed-term Parliaments Act would involve a rare case of Parliament giving up power and returning it to the monarch, something that goes against centuries of constitutional evolution in the UK (an important factor for many peers).
Cue – at best – many, many months of procedural wrangling that takes the snap out of ‘snap election’ whilst completely derailing a government that is seen to be spending so much time trying to bring itself to an end.
Unless there is one trump card the Prime Minister can play.
If it was in their party’s manifesto then they can point to the sort of democratic mandate for making the change that the Lords is extremely reluctant to get in the way of.
So want to know if there’s a chance of a second general election in 2015? Read the main party manifesto small print when they’re published in April to see if anyone is pledging to abolish the legislation.