Matters of timing

Fixed-year Parliaments at Westminster could mean two elections on the same day in 2015

One presumably unintended consequence of the coalition deal between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats is that the commitment to five-year fixed-term parliaments could mean that elections for the National Assembly and Westminster will take place on the same day in May 2015.

That would certainly boost turn-out in Assembly elections but it would cause a massive headache for the political parties, especially in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland where they would be fighting on two fronts at once. Think of the problems:

  • Finding 80 rather than 40 candidates.
  • Drawing up two completely different manifestos at the same time.
  • Organising two separate leadership debates for two different institutions – a headache for the media as well.
  • Clarifying two sets of different campaign themes – one for Westminster and the other for Cardiff Bay.
  • Getting involved in two separate sets of coalition negotiations following the election.

Quite apart from these specific problems for the parties there is a perhaps a more serious democratic issue. How is the electorate to distinguish between the policy choices for two sets of institutions when the concerns of one, the National Assembly, will inevitably be drowned out in the campaign by the media?  The domination of the London press and media in Wales – with , for example, only 14 per cent or so of the Welsh population reading a Wales-based daily newspaper – will mean that for most people concerns about the National Assembly will scarcely get a look-in.

Then there’s the question of organising the election itself. People are, of course, used to voting in Assembly and local elections at the same time but it undoubtedly presents a logistical challenge. This was underlined across England last week where in many constituencies people had to queue to vote with some having the polling booth doors closed to them at 10pm.

Of course, this doubling up of Assembly elections wouldn’t occur every time. If the fixed four-year term for the Assembly and fixed five-year term for Westminster were strictly adhered to it would happen once in every four elections.

Maybe all of this is just a little too unlikely. In the first instance, how probable is it that the new coalition at Westminster will last a full five-year term? Of course, if it only lasts a year, a double election could come in May 2011. Meanwhile, the new coalition’s commitment to hold a referendum on the alternative vote electoral system throws up another issue of timing. Depending on how soon that is contemplated, could it be run in tandem with a referendum in Wales on more powers for the Assembly?

John Osmond is the Director of the IWA

One thought on “Matters of timing

  1. It’s more than 80 candidates, what about the lists? Unless we want a bizarro Clwyd West problem where losing parliamentary candidates are elected to the Assembly on the list!

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