Fixed terms are now law. But why did ministers have to be so disingenuous?

By Alex Stevenson

When I spoke to the Cabinet Office yesterday morning the fixed term parliaments bill hadn't yet become an Act of Parliament. Since then, though, the Queen has managed to find time to grant royal assent to the bill.

This was a key part of the coalition agreement. There was simply no way Nick Clegg would have agreed to enter government had his party faced the threat of a snap general election. So, in order to make the Conservative-Lib Dem tie-up viable, David Cameron agreed to surrender a key prime ministerial power – the ability to 'go to the country' at a time of No 10's choosing.

This most definitely falls under the category of constitutional tinkering. And here the charge that the change was imposed to suit the needs of this one government is undeniable. Arguments that this would provide "stability" or "continuity" do not address the real reason for this change.

A shame, then, that the government has chose to ignore the real reason for the legislation.

This from constitutional reform minister Mark Harper: "With the passing of this bill into law the prime minister and the government have given away a significant power to the House of Commons.

"The timing of general elections will no longer be subject to political game-playing, but are set in law. It is a significant step in this government's commitment to restore trust in politics and move power away from the centre."

Not a word of recognition about the importance of this change to party politics and its fundamental importance to the coalition. That's just disingenuous, isn't it?

It isn't just an issue of deceptive self-righteousness from the coalition. This has changed our constitution, for reasons ministers aren't willing to acknowledge as the bill passes into law.

Worst of all, it wasn't just a question of pushing the change through, or not having a coalition at all. There was a third way.

That would have involved a 'sunset clause' – allowing future parliaments the opportunity to have their say, too. Under an amendment voted on by the Lords earlier this week, put forward by an independent crossbencher, every parliament would hold a vote to approve its five-year term.

The government rejected those arguments. Instead a review will take place in 2020 – a tactic which sounds an awful lot, as Lord Butler of Brockwell put it, like a move designed to 'fob people off'. You can read more of his comments, and how peers narrowly backed the government's changes, in my news story from yesterday.