Melanie McDonagh

Is the man who gave us fixed term parliaments now trying to do away with them?

Is the man who gave us fixed term parliaments now trying to do away with them?
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Nick Clegg has written an interesting column for the Evening Standard today about the referendum result. You will not be surprised, reader, that he’s not altogether happy about the outcome. But what’s especially interesting is his insistence that:

'…there will have to be a general election shortly after the new Conservative leader is elected. The country did not elect a Brexit government last year. The millions of voters who gave David Cameron the benefit of the doubt did so, above all, because they were worried what would happen to the economy if Ed Miliband and Alex Salmond were in charge… And when we vote in that general election, the key question will be this: do we agree or not to the terms of our exit from the EU? Since the Brexiters refused to give us any clue before last week’s referendum, they should be given the opportunity to put their plans to the British people.'

Now, the man who gave us fixed term parliaments which MPs will have to pass a law to do away with in order to hold a referendum in November was, of course, Nick Clegg. It was part of the deal for establishing a coalition government. But even back then we could have predicted that the unpredictable would happen, which would make a fixed term parliament seem utterly at odds with political reality; indeed several people did. The act included two provisions for dissolving parliament early: one, a vote of no confidence in the government; the other, a decision by two thirds of MPs to agree to an emergency election. I suppose it’s just about possible that one or the other of these conditions will be fulfilled. But more likely, parliament will simply vote to do away with the 2011 act, which will leave us just where we were before.

In introducing the bill Mr Clegg said; 'by setting the date that parliament will dissolve, our prime minister is giving up the right to pick and choose the date of the next general election—that's a true first in British politics'. Oh dear. It seems less of a game changer now.