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Wednesday, May 20, 2009 

Election chaos.

Gordon Brown didn't exactly cover himself in glory when he said that calling an election now would cause "chaos", which he elaborated on later to mean, rather disingenuously, that it would cause chaos for the public services to suddenly have to adjust to the Conservatives' planned cuts.

It isn't an entirely unjustified claim however. Half of the reason why the Conservatives are able to call for one is because they know it isn't going to happen. The Tories are no more ready for a snap election than the other political parties are, although they are probably the most well prepared, able to rely for direct funding to specific constituencies on Lord Ashcroft, something which neither the Liberal Democrats or Labour can compete with. None of the parties have manifestos ready to go, although they probably exist in draft form. More pertinently, the parties don't have the policies to even go in the manifestos; the Conservatives have come along further in the last year on specifics than they had previously, fleshing out their law and order stance, but we know next to nothing on what they do intend to cut faster and further than Labour. There wasn't a problem with that when we were still a year away from an election, but if Gordon Brown were suddenly to decide to just get it over with and follow Cameron's demands, that suddenly looks less like political sense and more like not knowing what they actually plan do if they suddenly find themselves in office.

There's little doubt that were there to be an election tomorrow, the Conservatives would sweep the board, which makes the Sun's claims, which is more or less hand in hand with Cameron in demanding an immediate ballot, that Brown has more to gain than lose in calling a vote even more hilarious. He has everything to lose, as is obvious. As horrendous as everything currently is, in a year it's still feasible, if unlikely, that the economy will have recovered sufficiently, the MPs that abused their expenses removed from their posts or disciplined and the reforms that are hastily being agreed will have bedded in enough for the anger to have diminished and for some to consider that perhaps they'd still rather vote Labour after all. One of the reforms that should be considered on a wider scale to help with re-engaging the public with politics should be fixed-term limits, removing the ridiculous and unfair advantage the governing party has in being able to call an election when they feel like it, but until then the ball is in Gordon Brown's hands.

As attractive the idea is of the public being able to cast their judgement on MPs immediately is, the cynicism behind the proposal from the Conservatives is clear: they're asking for one both because they know they won't get one, while also knowing that if they do, they'll be the ones to take full advantage. Also as righteous as much of anger currently descending on politicians is, actions taken in anger are often rash. An election should never be fought on a single issue, as one now would be. Far better to give all the parties a further chance to flesh out not just the specific reforms to our political culture which are now undoubtedly needed, but also their policies in full. An election now is the worst of all possible worlds.

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Are fixed term parliaments really such a good idea? Under the American system, electioneering for the next president or mid-term Congress starts immediately after an inauguration. Do we really want to live in an atmosphere of perpetual electioneering?

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