March 31, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
Yesterday was the first time in history that Parliament dissolved itself. Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, Parliament has been scheduled to dissolve itself today since 2011. Normally, the Queen’s task is to officially perform this act, as she has done for eleven previous Prime Ministers, some of them on more than one occasion. But today, there was no need. Except David Cameron still went to the Palace anyway. He still met with the Queen and she still signed the Act that dissolved the Parliament under the watchful eye of Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and a member of the Privy Council (one of whom has to be present when the Monarch signs the documents.
Some might argue that Cameron went through with this to take attention away from the launch of Ed Miliband’s business manifesto at Bloomberg’s offices in London today. The politically sceptical could be right about that. But it is probably a bit unfair to level that accusation at Cameron, who is at heart a deeply traditional man. Given this date for Parliament to be dissolved has been in the diary for over four years, I would argue that it was Miliband’s schedulers who have more questions to answer.
Royal Commentator Alistair Bruce commented on Sky News yesterday morning that , whatever the automatic nature of the dissolution, The Queen “is the one who can give permission to dissolve Parliament – only her – and the prime minister is asking her to exercise that authority.”
Bruce added that “The prime minister is aware that in order for the constitution to be a reassurance for the British public we have to see this process of the prime minister going to the Monarch and asking for the dissolution. It reminds us after all that the monarch’s authority protects us from any form of dictatorship.”
Sky News Senior Political Correspondent Jason Farrell explained what happens next – which is that as of yesterday all MPs have effectively lost their jobs, and if they are looking for re-election to their seats they become candidates again.
Farrell also points out that the Queen takes her role in our political system seriously. She gets a daily update on events in Parliament and meets with the Prime Minister once a week to talk about it.
So yesterday may have been purely ceremonial – but it was important too.