Why it’s time to return to four year terms at the Senedd

The clock of the Pierhead building outside the Senedd in Cardiff Bay (CC0 Public Domain).

Dan Lawrence

The Health Minister Vaughan Gething recently suggested that next year’s Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament election could be postponed due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

While I think this is unlikely to actually happen (and it was suggested purely as something that could happen rather than should happen), it would not be good news for Welsh democracy.

The longer a parliamentary term goes on, the further elected representatives drift from the concerns of the electorate, as they become more ensnared in the machinery of government or stuck in pointless political argument. Regular elections bring them back to where we the people are.

The current five-year term (and we still have one to go to get to May 6 2021) has already been too long. The Chartists famously demanded yearly parliaments. I don’t think most would be up for that!

But for parliamentary terms, you need to find a balance between regularity of elections to keep the parliament democratic and somewhere near the public mood, but not so regular that people get fed up of visiting the polling booths.

Prior to 2011 Senedd, terms were four years. They were changed at the time so as not to clash with the 2015 UK General Election (a reasonable adjustment).

However the reasons for the shift to five years to avoid General Elections clearly no longer holds water – we’ve had two GEs just since 2016. With no regularity at Westminster, the Senedd should just stick to four short years, and adjust if needed.

Drift

The current term since 2016 shows how much can change politically in just four years, let alone five.

The election was unfortunately overshadowed by the fast-approaching EU referendum of the same year. As we now know, that referendum completely changed the politics of the UK, in ways we are still coming to grips with.

The unique circumstances of the time meant that seven of the sixty AMs (now MSs) were elected for UKIP. After their mission was achieved just over a month later they found themselves in an odd position, having achieved their main objective and had little purpose beyond agitating for their specific version of Brexit.

This lack of direction led to public spats, with their AM’s falling out with each other and swapping parties, or becoming independents. Today only one of the original AMs continue to represent UKIP, and their leader at the election has left the institution completely.

Since 2016, there has also been a genuine shift in Wales from complete dominance by the Labour party to a scenario where at least three political parties could have a large say in the outcome of an election.

For the first time, Conservatives and Plaid Cymru look like serious contenders, either of which could be leading the Welsh Government.

But while we have seen a huge shift in the polls since 2016 the make-up of the Senedd will remain the same for another whole year.

Stuck in a mid-2010s timewarp, when none of the parties in the Senedd or Westminster (bar the SNP who dod not stand in Wales) were led by their present leaders.

Decisions

But it is not only the polls that have changed in Wales but the institution itself. We now have a Welsh Parliament, and since last year the power to adjust income taxes resides in Wales.

But perhaps even more significantly, the Covid-19 pandemic has also brought home to Wales like never before that the Welsh Government has real power here to shape their day to day lives.

So when voters in Wales go to the polls next year (hopefully!) we will be voting for a real parliament, where the major domestic decisions that affect us are made, and where there is a greater understanding of the institution’s role than ever before.

Voters will have a choice of three parties that could all reasonably hope to enter government, who all have very different political priorities, and who will have more tools than ever to really make a difference to the lives of people in Wales.

For all these reasons, let’s not wait any longer than next May before we can make our choice. And let’s ensure that we never have to wait so long to cast our votes again.

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WrexhamianWalter Huntmax wallisJonathan GammondPaul Recent comment authors
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Paul
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Paul

Slight correction.

Only one of the seven UKIP AMs have left the institution: Nathen Gill.

Jonathan Gammond
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Jonathan Gammond

Good governance is better than politicians tacking this way and that in an attempt to keep in tune with the ever changing public mood, much of which is manufactured by external forces. Most commentators feel that one of the drawbacks of the electoral cycle is that it leads to short-termism in politics so shortening the terms doesn’t sound like a great idea. In contrast, has there been much long term thinking when one party has had a long-term hold on the levers of power in Wales ; it would appear at first to be the ideal scenario yet how much… Read more »

Walter Hunt
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Walter Hunt

I agree with you JG about the short-termism problem. While some think of a written constitution, I think what Wales needs is a written national renewal plan. Once agreed, significant changes would require a super-majority in the Senedd. So “the plan” is the long term element. A plan of course needs frequent review and elections would give the public an opportunity to have their say about delivery and direction of “the plan” and if this was so, there is a stronger argument for elections more frequently than every 5 years.

max wallis
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max wallis

“the Covid-19 pandemic has also brought home”… the failure of the Welsh Govt to significantly alter the disastrous failure in the UK. Despite health being devolved, Wales had no separate pandemic plan. The WG knew from the trial run of Operation Cygnus in 2016 that equipment stocks/suppliers and readiness were bad, but took no steps to remedy these and develop our own Plan. We like England emptied Hospital beds of vulnerable elderly patients, pushing their care onto quite unready care-homes and social-care system – who had very limited PPE and primitive guidance on when to use it . Discharging vulnerable… Read more »

Wrexhamian
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Wrexhamian

Only three parties?