I’ve written a few times about the problems with the ever-shrinking Parliamentary by-elections timetable:
The average length of Parliamentary by-election campaign has shrunk by four weeks since the 1970s, sharply narrowing the chance for the public to find out about the candidates presented to them and stifling openness in the candidate selection processes which frequently now have to be run at break-neck pace…
At a time when nominally all parts of the electoral system are deeply concerned with increasing public interest and involvement in our elections, slashing the length of election campaigns runs in completely the opposite direction.
I understand the situation of those who decide to move the writ increasingly quickly, whichever party they are from. They are working fully within the law and, given the law gives them discretion to choose when to move the writ, choosing the date that best suits your own party is understandable. I’ve given advice on this basis myself in the past, particularly for local by-elections.
But there comes a point where everyone should take a step back and ask whether it’s right that the rules are written this way. Parliamentary by-elections are now in practice far too short to offer much meaningful choice between individuals. If you think politics should just be about choosing between parties, then that doesn’t matter. But if you think the individual merits of candidates matter, then the huge cut in the length of Parliamentary by-elections is a real problem.
Good news then that the heralded reform is now in force.
For any Parliamentary by-election now taking place, the timetable has been extended from 21 to 27 working days.