Conservative Home’s Tim Montgomerie writes here about the scope for George Osborne to follow David Cameron as Tory party leader. It’s the first article I’ve seen which flags how it’s possible for senior politicians to aspire to be in the top job without wishing to topple their predecessor. Up to a point. This new environment is created, I think, by the implications of the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill which is now in the Lords. If the Bill goes through, it will set a 5 year span for each parliament. While it will still be possible to dissolve early, it seems to me likely that the lesson of Scotland/Wales will apply and politics will revolve around the assumption that UK parliaments will indeed go the full term.
While it isn’t really practical in a parliamentary democracy to legislate for fixed-terms for prime ministers, it seems likely that fixed-term parliaments will create strong pressures on incumbent prime ministers to accept a two-term limit. History shows that 10 years is pretty close to the practical maximum in any case. But, of course, the limit for David Cameron would be less. I’m confident Ed Miliband will make this question nugatory by becoming prime minister at the next election. But if he didn’t, David Cameron would be likely to have to yield around 2018 in order to give his successor time to bed in before fighting an election in 2020. That in turn means the serious jockeying would begin in 2015. Or even before, although the Tories will want to keep a tight lid on that.
Fixed-term parliaments therefore seem likely, to me anyway, to produce 4 time frames for future prime ministers. First, those who get just 2 years or less in power before they lose an election. Second, those who win one election and get around 7 years. Third, those who win 2 elections and get 10 years (but out of sync with the parliamentary elections). Finally, those who become party leader after a defeat and are likely to be subject to the same 8-ish year constraint as David Cameron were he to win next time ’round. Ironically, in spite of all the crowing about Gordon Brown serving as prime minister without having been elected as such, this seems likely to apply, at least in the first instance, to most prime ministers in future.