So they actually did it. Yesterday, the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act (DCPA) received Royal Assent, and the Fixed-term Parliaments Act was finally repealed.
For a Government which has too often exhibited a serious sense of drift, with personnel churn at the centre undermining any effort to maintain a sustained strategic focus, this is no small achievement. Conservatives are generally far too reticent about repealing anything, let alone major pieces of constitutional legislation.
So credit where credit is due. The FTPA should never have been passed; if David Cameron needed to reassure the Liberal Democrats that he wouldn’t seek an early election, a Bill fixing the length of the 2010 parliament would have sufficed. Accepting permanent change to escape temporary difficulty is seldom a good bargain.
Unfortunately, this does seem to mark the point where the Government’s constitutional reform agenda has run out of steam. As I noted last year, the proposal for a ‘British Bill of Rights’ are long on noise and short on change. It’s been a long time since we last heard anything about overhauling the Supreme Court.
Nonetheless, the scrapping of the FTPA shows that when the will is there, this sort of thing can be done. It also creates a new and potentially destabilising dynamic for the Prime Minister to handle over the next couple of years.
Traditionally there have been two games we hacks like to play in covering British politics: speculating about the next leadership contest, and speculating about the timing of the next general election.
Although the FTPA turned out to be one of those things honoured more in the breach than the observance – of the three elections held under its aegis, two were triggered early – the need for a vote and some kind of justification or extenuating circumstances did somewhat spoil the game.
Yet now we stand once again in the glorious past. The timing of the next election is, subject to Her Majesty’s pleasure and the five-year limit, Boris Johnson’s to determine. He can’t again be pinned in office by a parliament scared of an election; but by the same token, he now has nobody to blame but himself if he gets the timing wrong. Let the speculation begin!