Britain's Strange CoalitionA coalition government between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats is now a reality in Britain. One of the concessions that now-Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to in entering into government with the usually Left-of-Center Liberal Democrats was that the term of Parliament would be fixed to five years. In other words, Cameron has essentially agreed to give up his historic right to ask the Queen for a dissolution of Parliament and a fresh election. As former Conservative Party Chairman Norman Tebbit writes, a fixed-term Parliament could create a real problem if this coalition should fall apart:
If we have legislated for a fixed term Parliament, what happens then? What if no one can command the confidence of the House of Commons and there cannot be a general election to resolve the issue?
As they say, marry in haste and repent at leisure.
It is one thing to allow for legislation to prevent a sitting Prime Minister from moving for an election merely because it is politically advantageous, but it is quite another to fix the term of Parliament so that it cannot be dissolved at all before a certain date and no election can be called. A fixed term doesn't seem like a big deal to us here in the U.S. because we are used to two critical differences-the first is the separation between the legislature and the executive, and the second is that our elections are frequent enough (every two years) to resolve questions of confidence and who has real governing control.
In a parliamentary system, however, a government that loses the confidence of the legislature becomes dysfunctional and unworkable almost immediately. If this coalition falls apart and Her Majesty's Government fails to keep the confidence of the House of Commons, the Prime Minister must have the freedom to go to the monarch and ask for a dissolution and a new election. If he cannot do that under such circumstances, it could paralyze government in Britain for months or even years, forget mention of what it might do to the economy.
It will be interesting to see how this "change" across the water plays out.