NEW POLL: Do you believe in term-limits?

by Stephen Tall on May 20, 2008

This week, Boris Johnson announced his support for legislation which would limit the term of office of the elected London mayor to two terms of four years. Over at his Liberal England blog, Jonathan Calder applauds the move:

This seems to me entirely sensible. In a perfect world all local councillors would be limited to two terms. When you are elected you fully intend to represent the people in the council chamber. Unless you are very careful, after a few years you find yourself representing the council officers in your ward.

The trouble that all parties have finding council candidates means that this will never happen, but it is certainly possible when it comes to the Mayor of London. I suspect that a widespread feeling that he had outstayed his welcome was one of the reasons for Ken Livingstone’s defeat this time.

In the opposing corner *inserts gratuitous West Wing plug* we have fictional US President Jed Bartlet:

I get nervous around laws that fundamentally assume that Americans can’t be trusted. We better have mandatory sentencing, because judges can’t be trusted to disperse even-handed justice…. We better have term limits, ’cause voters can’t be trusted to recognize corruption. Oh, and by the way… when the playing field is level and the process is fair and open, it turns out we have term limits: They’re called elections.”

So here at LDV we’re asking you the question: do you believe elected politicians should be subject to term-limits? It’s a simple yes or no answer… or use the comments thread if you want to be nuanced.

Result of last poll:

We asked LDV readers – somewhat controversially, it seems – What do you think is the most likely outcome of the next general election?

Here’s how you voted:

> A Conservative victory with a Commons majority: 239 (50%)

> Conservative largest single party but no overall majority: 166 (35%)
> Labour largest single party but no overall majority: 57 (12%)
> A Labour victory with a Commons majority: 17 (4%)
Total Votes: 479. Poll ran: 9th-20th May 2008

So, apparently, a whopping 85% of you think the Tories are heading for victory, of one sort or another.

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I strongly believe that elections are the best requirement for deciding whether councillors should get another term.

I also disagree with the opinion that after two terms you go native and support the officers. In my fourth term as a councillor (yes, I started young!), I believe that it is often the less experienced councillors that take officers’ sides.

A more experienced councillor will know how to get things done, by a roundabout route if necessary and is more likely to challenge.

Certainly, speaking from a council that has been LibDem majority controlled since the last millennium, I see no signs that the longer-serving councillors are the weakest in terms of delivering – quite the reverse in many cases.

by Sara on May 20, 2008 at 7:02 pm. Reply #

Call me a democrat if you wish, but I think voters should decide how many terms of office any politician can serve…

by Martin Land on May 20, 2008 at 7:34 pm. Reply #

Elections are term limits. it is for the electors to decide who they vote for, and if they choose to vote for the same person each time they are up for election, then that is there choice.

by Stephen on May 20, 2008 at 7:43 pm. Reply #

I’m slightly uncomfortable about the idea. I don’t think there should be term limits. A good leader would probably only need to serve two terms to get the job done. But we don’t know the full circumstances of the future.
And don’t trust Boris on the two terms limit. He may say this to make himself look good, and that he is only seeking two terms, why? Because 8 years is a long time. In 8 years Cameron may no longer me leader of the conservatives or about to finish. Then Boris can get back into Parliament and have a get into the leadership.

by Alasdair on May 20, 2008 at 7:49 pm. Reply #

Term-limits are only really necessary in societies where demogogues like Robert Mugabe continue to hang on to office.

Surely we ought to consider ourselves slightly more enlightened and less violent than that.

Both artificial and authoritarian restrictions on our freedom to choose have entirely equivalent results and are both to be avoided at all costs.

by Oranjepan on May 20, 2008 at 7:55 pm. Reply #

The article doesn’t distinguish between two important options: term limits for holders of executive office and term limits for representatives.

I am ambivalent about the first but firmly against the latter.

by Kevin on May 20, 2008 at 8:04 pm. Reply #

Like Kevin – not the best question.

Term limits for powerful, directly-elected executive offices like President of the United States or Mayor of London?

Yes, absolutely.

Term limits for Councillors? No.

by Chris Keating on May 20, 2008 at 8:15 pm. Reply #

I lean towards the view that there should be time limits, to prevent long incumbencies and going native. My biggest reservation is that anything Iain Dale supports must have something wrong with it!

by asquith on May 20, 2008 at 9:22 pm. Reply #

Once again, the LDV poll is too black and white. I think there is something to be said for term limits for directly elected executive office holders such as mayors (and presidents for that matter). I don’t think there is any justification at all for term limits for elected representatives.

by James Graham on May 20, 2008 at 10:20 pm. Reply #

I’m going to break the habit of a lifetime and agree with the general consensus…..i am in favour for term-limits to executive posts and against them for elected representatives…

by Darrell on May 20, 2008 at 10:35 pm. Reply #

Why the distinction Darrell?

I am quite happy to let executive members and parliamentarians face scrutiny by voters rather than constitutions.

In my view, term limits amount to a denial of democracy to the electorate. The only benefit they have is in excluding totalitarians, but there are two arguments against acting on this premise.

Firstly, it should be for people to decide what is totalitarian or not, or you end up with situations like the American gun laws, or even earlier drafts of that constitution whereby high reasoning elites make thoroughly sensible constitutional choices, such as the assignment to black men of one third of the human value of his white counterparts.

But more importantly, from a real world/materialist perspective, once people get to the point of electing totalitarians, you’re screwed, constitutions or not. Totalitarians have the pleasant distinction of being the sort of people who don’t listen to constitutions save when they want to. And if they already have popular support, you’ve got problems…

by Miller 2.0 on May 20, 2008 at 11:24 pm. Reply #

Although I would never apply term limits to Parliament if you want a good example of what happens when you dont have term limits then look at the last 20 years which have both seen long stints for either the Tories or Labour in power with the government towards the end of its life visibly decomposing in office and draining any kind of wider interest in politics other than a negative ‘kick them out’ attitude with it….

Then look across the pond at the freshness and excitment of the Presidential race and the real prospect of a clash of ideas between two fresh candidates….term limits keep those elected to executive positions on their toes and keep them decent….sadly they couldnt be introduced to representative posts for the reason they do impinge too much on the right to choose…but i would support them being used where they can be….

by Darrell on May 20, 2008 at 11:48 pm. Reply #

Far be it from me to disagree with Jed Bartlett. But there is million miles of difference between being a councillor and the incumbency advantage at all levels of being US President. And to a lesser level Mayor of London. I’m with Chris Keating on this one.

by Duncan Borrowman on May 21, 2008 at 12:18 am. Reply #

P.S. So I need an extra answer option…

by Duncan Borrowman on May 21, 2008 at 12:19 am. Reply #

Didn’t Livingstone demonstrate that Jed Bartlett was right ? I think term limits are fundamentally illiberal. Unless you can powerfully demonstrate Mills harm test about long serving officials then I just don’t see what there is to debate.

term limits for Civil Servants and senior council officers, well I could warm to that

by David Morton on May 21, 2008 at 12:26 am. Reply #

I just have demonstrated the harm test….I look at America and I look at the Presidential contest which is being fought between two fresh candidates which is energising politics and I look at over here where if things carry on as they are we are going to end up with over 30 years of government by two different parties and 5 PM’s (Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and one presumes if the polls carry on this way Cameron’s majority could last him two, maybe three parliaments minimum)….how is that good for democracy???

by Darrell on May 21, 2008 at 12:33 am. Reply #

Incidentally I dont see how people can rightly support fixed-term parliaments but then come out so totally against this…im actually becoming more in favour of the idea as i debate….anybody who thinks that the electoral system is ‘incorruptable’ should watch the House of Cards series…there needs to be built in checks and balances and sometimes they may appear ‘illiberal’ but i say so be it…

by Darrell on May 21, 2008 at 12:47 am. Reply #

….sorry i hit the submit button too soon…i meant to finish by saying that in saying it is ‘illiberal’ you are siding with the ‘letter’ of liberalism against its spirit…..

by Darrell on May 21, 2008 at 12:50 am. Reply #

I could be predictable and say that if we had a decent voting system then term limits wouldn’t be neccessary, but under some voting systems they’re generally an improvement simply ‘cos the voting system’s rubbish. Ergo change the voting system rather than introduce term limits. (So that voters can choose between candidates of the same party as well as between parties – ensures that the electorate can easily make a choice to kick out an unresponsive official as no seat or office becomes ‘safe’.)

by Lennon on May 21, 2008 at 9:43 am. Reply #

I’m against directly-elected executives in principle so would support a term-limit if it were a limit of zero terms and a decision to stick to parliamentary process.

Otherwise I’m with Jed all the way – surely the most senior elected Lib Dem in history?

by benjamin on May 21, 2008 at 12:47 pm. Reply #

the US Presidential race is so enlivening because the US Presidency is so stupifying.

Term limits result in either the setting loose of the bull in the china shop or an eventual lame duck executive, whereas the current UK system allows for collapse by providing a natural self-correcting mechanism.

I suggest your enthusiasm for the US system is consequent of your favoritism towards the democratic candidates and premature conclusion that McCain won’t win – imagine for a second the situation were the Republicans to retain the White House this time round: it would be used as vindication of their policies over the past 8 years.

by Oranjepan on May 21, 2008 at 4:11 pm. Reply #

I think that offices with executive powers, like Mayor of London or Prime Minister should have term-limits, but offices with legislative powers, like MPs or jurisdiction, like judges, wouldn’t have to have such limits.

by Anonymous on May 21, 2008 at 4:15 pm. Reply #

Oranjepan –

McCain has tried to move a little away from Bush and although there is no doubt he would stay in Iraq much longer than the Democrats there is a question mark at least over whether he would launch a similar intervention so although I am very enthusiastic about Obama specifically it is not just that.

As for the British system ‘allowing for collapse’ why support fixed-term parliaments then? Are they not precisely an attempt to correct a situation where an executive can unfairly manipulate things to its advantage….and I think the spectacle of this collapse deadens politics and discredits it…

by Darrell on May 21, 2008 at 8:55 pm. Reply #

Er, Darrell, we don’t have fixed-term parliaments, we have a maximum limit of 5 years. When was the last time a parliament actually reached the full term? Even Callaghan waited only 4 1/2 years, which was considered too long.

Personally I don’t think watching the party of government unravel deadens politics or discredits it – on the contrary, it puts life back into debate, and while it does discredit the party that does the unravelling any further inference is purely a matter of perception in the mind of the audience and is anyway counterbalanced by the relief surrounding the new inhabitants of Downing Street – even Brown bounced in the polls (what goes up must come down!) before being bounced around on policy.

by Oranjepan on May 22, 2008 at 6:44 am. Reply #

Oranjepan – I know we don’t but unless i am imagining things a Lib Dem MP was pushing a bill to bring them in with little dissent from people on here. As to the second point I disagree because it means people are only engaging with politics in a negative way, when they are fed-up with the current administration and want to kick it out…after they have got rid of the administration they dont like apathy sets back in……

by Darrell on May 22, 2008 at 8:30 am. Reply #

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