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FIXING THE DATE

11-03-2010

Gordon Brown is currently deciding on what date to hold the next general election. Dave Woodhall thinks he should be saved the trouble.

I wish they’d get on with it. I wish Gordon Brown would announce the date of the election, we could have a few weeks of spin, half-truth and lies, then we could all get on with our lives once again. Not only is it annoying for those of us whose lives aren’t dominated by politics but it’s causing all sorts of problems for the way the country is run.

Purdah used to mean the way in which Asian men and women were kept separate. In the political context it now refers to the period leading up to a general election in which no real decisions can be made; technically from the time the election date is announced but in practise for some weeks before then. It’s perfectly sensible, because there’s no point in a public sector agency making a decision it would be impossible to implement a few days later, once a new government has been elected.

We’ve already seen some important decisions delayed.

Transport Secretary Andrew Adnonis announced at the end of last month that no new orders for high-speed trains will be placed until after the election. The report from the Saville Enquiry into Bloody Sunday, which lasted ten years, is due to be hand to the government this month. The announcement of these controversial findings will almost certainly be delayed as well.

If, as expected, the election takes place on May 6th we’ll have a few weeks of settling-in for a new government. That will lead us almost into the holiday period. Then it’s the State Opening of Parliament, and before you know it Christmas is imminent.

It could be the early part of 2011 before things get back to normal in local and national government. And if, as is possible, we get a short-lived minority or coalition government, the whole thing would have to start over again.

If any party wants to gain a lot more votes they could do worse than including in their election manifesto one simple measure that would end a lot of this problem. They could propose fixed term parliaments.

Every five years, unless the government loses a confidence vote, we have an election. That way everyone would know where they stand, the business of government could continue with the minimum of interruption and the incumbent Prime Minister wouldn’t have the advantage of being able to choose the most convenient date for them.

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