Monday 3 May 2010

A Too-Quick Fix

In the United States a President is elected on the first Tuesday of one year and, if he is a new president, takes over the government in the second half of the following January. This "lame duck" period of some ten weeks is probably rather too long for modern conditions.

However, the British system, under which, if a prime-minister's party is defeated on a Thursday and, given a clear winner, the new man or woman takes over on the Friday, is much too short. Even under the "normal" circumstances of the past, when one party has had a clear majority, this has meant that key decisions, such as the structure of the new government and who should or should not be in the key posts, have been made hastily when both he new leader and his colleagues, not to mention the new MPs, are all exhausted from the campaign.

In the circumstances which are likely to prevail in the future, when no single party may have a clear majority, it means that key negotiations need to be carried out by exhausted leaders whose advisers have had no time to prepare for and think through the consequences of the new circumstances. Nor will the new MPs, on whose support the new government depends, have had time to "learn the ropes" and exert their influence. Rather they will be bounced by the old hands into accepting decisions they may come to regret.

Clearly among the constitutional reforms now needed is one that says that after an election the old government should remain in a caretaker capacity, not for ten weeks but for ten days, so that the membership and structure of a new government can be considered in a period of calm reflection.

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