It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that because fixed term parliaments are a bad thing, a general election would have taken place by now were it not for the Fixed Terms Parliament Act.
But is this really so? Prime Ministers tend to engineer general elections when they have a clear lead in the polls. Cameron hasn’t had such a lead since the start of this Parliament – not one, at any rate, that would make a Conservative majority government probable. So there is no reason to believe that had the Act not been in place this languishing Parliament would have been put out of its misery.
It can, of course, be argued that, had the Act not been in place, David Cameron would have governed with a four-year rather than a five-year cycle in mind – and have succeeded in getting his Party into a winning position by, say, last May. Both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair were able to govern in this way, gaining their victories at the end of four-year parliaments.
However, the comparison isn’t a good one. Thatcher and Blair had big majorities and, for much of their terms, presided over booming economies. Cameron’s position is more like that of John Major, who didn’t have a majority either by the end of his second term as Prime Minister, and had to cut spending and raise taxes to get the economy back on the straight and narrow. That term ran the full five years.
I am not a supporter of the Act. But there’s no good reason to believe that we would have had an election by now had it not been passed.