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Letter: Timing of the next general election

Sir: Stephen Woodard of the European Movement (Letters, 27 July) is quite right to remind us about the next intergovernmental conference (IGC) of the European Community in 1996. The conclusion to draw from this date and the Government's obvious difficulty over European policy is that the general election will be held before, not after, the intergovernmental conference.

The average span between general elections is less than four years. Autumn 1995 will be three-and-a-half years from the last one. The special Act of Parliament rushed through after the last general election ensures that new parliamentary boundaries will all be in place by January 1995.

Given the close shave in 1992, the Government will not want to wait till 1997. If this was a widespread assumption, it would mean that on 1 January 1996 everyone would know it was general election year. As such, the advantage to the incumbent of fixing the date is lost. The idea of having the general election just before or just after the IGC would 'split the Tory party into smithereens', to use the Prime Minister's words.

The IGC will be the excuse for a 1995 election, believe you me. There is a further impetus to this timetable. All the opposition parties will have to have policies locked in place by the policy-making conferences in autumn 1994 for any 1995 election date. As the Tory party does not have a policy-making conference, this forces the opposing parties to declare well in advance.

Is it any wonder that Labour's Plant Commission is recommending fixed-term parliaments?

Yours faithfully,


MP for Birmingham Perry Barr (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

27 July