Approaching its second general election in two years, with a
referendum squeezed in between, you would be forgiven for thinking that
Britain was in the midst of a democratic bonanza. Think again, writes Craig Berry.
He argues that the Prime Minister’s decision to call a snap election
signifies a rather cynical, undemocratic turn in British political
culture, alongside a revival of conservative norms of statecraft.
It has become conventional wisdom in British politics since the passage of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act
(FTPA) – a final, futile attempt to modernise British democracy – in
2011 that ‘snap’ elections, held at the convenience of the sitting
government, are a thing of the past. May’s move exposes the flaws in the
FPTA. She was required to gain a two-thirds majority in the Commons to
dissolve Parliament’s lower house, but this is hardly insurmountable
given that it would clearly be difficult for any opposition party to
vote against the prospect – however far-fetched in practice – of
replacing the governing party in office.
But it is doubtful that any Prime Minister would have had the audacity to undermine the spirit
of the FTPA so unashamedly before the Brexit vote. Respecting the
spirit of the FTPA might have meant that May politely requested that the
opposition acquiesce to an election, perhaps on the basis that the 2016
referendum had settled the issue of whether to leave the EU, and an election was therefore needed to determine how this decision should be implemented.