Why the Fixed-term Parliaments Act should not be repealed

The Coalition introduced the Fixed Term Parliaments Act in 2011. Now some Conservative MPs want to repeal the Act. But Fixed Term Parliaments are good for UK democracy and the Act should stay.

When the current coalition government introduced the Fixed-term Parliaments Act in 2011, the case appeared compelling:

“The Government believes that fixed-term Parliaments will have a positive impact on our country’s political system; providing stability, discouraging short-termism, and preventing the manipulation of election dates for political advantage.” [Government response to the report of the House of Lords Constitution Committee on the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill”, 2011, Introduction]

Now Tory MPs have changed their minds. This week a group of Tory backbenchers have been mounting a campaign to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. Their aim has been to prepare the ground for a backbench debate on Thursday in which MPs will hold a symbolic vote on returning to the old days when Prime Ministers had full discretion to call elections as they saw fit.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act is one of the few surviving elements of the Coalition’s ambitious programme of constitutional reform, which – had it been fully implemented – would have altered the UK’s majoritarian vision of democracy and elections extensively. The reforms were designed to change the nature of electoral representation (the referendum on the alternative vote), alter the composition of both Houses of Parliament (boundary review and House of Lords reform), and to reduce the power of the Prime Minister to time elections. In the event, internal coalition disagreements scuppered most of the reforms.

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Austerity and Euroscepticism: The End of EU Development Cooperation?

The financial crisis and its aftermath have brought to light the crisis of European integration, more precisely the crisis and potential demise of a certain approach to integration pursued since the early 1950s. The demise of an allegedly inevitable ‘ever closer Union’ pursued primarily in a technocratic way predates the turmoil which started in late 2008. The escalating struggle between European institutions and member states, buttressed by the rise of popular distrust, seems to emerge as one of the biggest challenges to European integration.

dev aidIn development cooperation, an area of ‘shared’ competences between the EU institutions and the member states, it has remained unexplored how economic recession, the sovereign debt crisis, austerity, the struggle in the eurozone and increasing Euroscepticism have affected the relationship between the EU and its member states.

EU aid has undeniably been affected. Significant cuts to bilateral aid budgets due to the consolidation of public finances have reduced member states’ willingness to pool further resources and competences in Brussels. Instead, member states have shown an increasing tendency to operate on their own or in like-minded groups, and focus on inward-looking aid policiesdriven by national interests and priorities.

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Immigration controls and their effects on citizenship

UKIP’s recent by election victory proves it: the public are extremely worried about immigration and its impacts on labour markets and communities. The pressure is increasing on politicians of all parties to ‘do something’ about immigration.

But this is nothing new. A quick look at immigration laws in the last decade suggests that there has been no shortage of efforts to do something. The most recent Immigration Act 2014 is the fourth major Act in ten years, and the eighth since 1996. During its nine years in office, Labour created eighty-four new immigration offences (Aliverti 2012). These laws have had significant consequences for non-citizens, consequences that have been the subject of interest across a wide range of social science disciplines.

Often forgotten, though, are the consequences for citizens and the idea of citizenship. Our blog series on migration and citizenship hopes to address this omission.

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New special series on migration and citizenship

Migration is a difficult concept, especially within a political climate dominated by questions over immigration and movement within the European Union. Yet despite its contested meaning, the impacts of migration are keenly felt — or so we are often led to believe — especially among voter groups dissatisfied with a stuttering economic recovery. The conference speeches and by-elections indicate that debates over migration will only become more heated in the run up to the General Election and with the implementation of further restrictions on migrants’ rights to citizenship and services.

But around these debates, little is said about who is ‘the migrant’ and who is ‘a citizen’. For example, not all ‘migrants’ are subject to immigration controls, such as EU nationals, those with indefinite leave to remain and nationals returning from abroad. Indeed, policies directed at ‘migrants’ can have very real consequences for those with the formal status of citizenship.

To widen the conversation, this blog series, hosted by Politics and Spires and Oxford COMPASS, explores the relationship between migration, the ‘migrant’ and ‘citizenship’. It hopes to help us reflect on who counts as a migrant and will consider the impacts of immigration controls and associated policies on the meaning of citizenship.

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On Devolution: England should get what England wants – it’s time to find out what that is

‘You can be proud to be English and British’, Labour party leader Ed Miliband told his party conference. Yet the Labour leader ducked the question of England’s place within the next stage of devolution, instead warning that Prime Minister David Cameron’s raising of the issue of ‘English votes for English laws’ could divide the UK.

Labour’s complaint – that the Prime Minister’s raising the question of English votes for English laws was simply a partisan ambush – is unconvincing, because it fails to answer the key questions.

Any party which wants to be part of the conversation needs to decide what it is offering to England and the English.

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Are we fighting a just war against the Islamic State?

This question is a little provocative so a clarification is in order. There is a distinction between whether a war is just (jus ad bellum) and whether it is being conducted in a just manner (jus in bello). In the case of IS it is incontrovertible that there is just cause for war. I have argued elsewhere that what is happening in IS occupied territory is attempted genocide. This legitimises military intervention, especially since the Iraqi government has requested help. What I wish to examine here is whether this war is being conducted justly.

Just war theory provides us with several principles that limit what is morally permissible in war. There are two principles that give us cause for concern when assessing the intervention against IS: proportionality and non-combatant immunity. The first of these is the idea that the means of war must be proportional to the ends. Soldiers should aim for victory, but this does not mean that victory can be pursued by any means necessary. There must be, to use Michael Walzer’s term, an ‘economy of force’ (Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 129-33). A general should not waste the lives of his soldiers in a bloody offensive when there are more economical means to victory. He should not resort to tactics that will produce longstanding bitterness and prolong the war (such as taking no prisoners).

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Double standards on sex work in the EU: The ‘Nordic model’ criminalizes everyone.

The European Parliament (EP) recently voted in favor of a resolution that supports the so-called ‘Nordic model’ of sex work. With this decision from the 26th of February, the EP backs a report titled ‘Sexual exploitation and prostitution and its impact on gender equality’ that was proposed by Labour MEP for London Mary Honeyball. The purpose of the report was to send a “strong signal to domestic governments”. The document states that criminalizing the buying of sex while making selling of it exempt from punishment (as is currently the case in Sweden, Iceland and Norway), will decrease the demand for sex work. This is intended to reduce human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. In the EP’s report, the ‘Nordic Model’ is presented as a policy approach that aims to protect sex workers.

However, the Nordic approach does not improve the situation of sex workers. Instead, it indirectly leads to a criminalization of everyone involved in sex work – obviously including sex workers themselves. Criminalizing sex work increases the vulnerability of sex workers who chose this work because of economic necessity, strict immigration laws or personal preference. Moreover, it does not help those who are victims of human trafficking and have been forced into prostitution either, but instead decreases their visibility. Often portrayed as dominating the sex industry, the scale of the victims of human trafficking represents a minority of sex workers in the UK: less than 10% of female sex workers (2600 out of 30000) working indoors have been trafficked according to the Association of Chief Police Officers’ 2010 report.

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Paying your soldiers and building the state in post-genocide Rwanda

Ensuring soldiers have legal access to financial resources is crucial for the state to fulfil its primary mission: retain the monopoly of violence. As seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo, difficulties providing soldiers with adequate resources may result in deteriorating discipline, corruption, defection, and human rights abuses.

Rwanda after the genocide faced the difficult task of paying its soldiers. The post-1994 situation made this challenge inescapable. The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) took power in a ruined country. The economy was entirely destroyed, and fleeing officials of the previous regime had emptied state coffers. The resources to pay soldiers were virtually non-existent. In addition, following the RPF victory, many families returned from exile to Rwanda. Consequently, soldiers of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA, the armed wing of the RPF) were not just guerrilla fighters anymore: they became fathers, husbands, or brothers again. This new financial burden on soldiers’ shoulders created a form of indiscipline largely unknown until then in the RPA’s ranks. In addition, the meagre salaries were made in cash, transported by intermediaries from the Ministry of Defence to soldiers, which multiplied the opportunities for embezzlement and the creation of ‘ghost soldiers’. Worse, the opportunities for soldiers to borrow money were extremely limited at the time. Many had no property in Rwanda and consequently no collateral to offer to the few banks still functioning.

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