Posts Tagged ‘government’

Do left-wing governments increase public employment levels?

Hiring more public sector employees is often part of left-wing parties’ electoral pledges, but do they fulfil it? Based on data from 22 OECD countries, Lasse Aaskoven finds that they generally do not, with some exceptions.

The promise to hire more public sector employees often features prominently in left-wing parties’ electoral campaigns. The UK Labour Party has repeatedly called for such increases, president Francois Holland famously promised to hire 60,000 more teachers in the 2012 French presidential campaign, while one of the Danish Social Democrats’ central campaign promises in the 2019 parliamentary elections was to hire an additional 1,000 nurses.

However, do left-wing governments actually increase the level of public employment relative to total employment compared to right-wing and centrist governments? In a recent article in Political Studies, I answer this question using data on public employment levels across 22 OECD countries between 1995 and 2010. I focus on public employees as a percentage of the total number of employed people in order to investigate whether left-wing governments prioritize public employment relative to private employment.

The analysis uses regression analysis but the raw data presented in figure 1 gives an idea of the potential differences between public employment levels under left-wing vs. non-left governments. There seems to be a slight difference amounting to less than one percentage point.

However, with regression analysis that takes into account the specific features of each of the countries – given left-wing parties might be more dominant in some countries than others – there seems to be no statistically significant difference between left-wing and non-left governments.

Figure 1: Average levels of public employment under left-wing and non-left-wing government,1995-2010 (%).

Note: Data for public employment is from the International Labour Organization’s LABORSTA database, while for total employment is from the OECD’s database.

Do left-wing governments never prioritise public employment, then? An auxiliary analysis suggests that left-wing governments might increase public employment levels during an election year, but not on average. Over the course of a year when a left-wing government faces a potential defeat, public employment as a share of total employment does seem to be higher than in other years.

My interpretation of these results is that since public employees in most developed democracies tend to vote for left-of-center parties, especially within the public service sector, left-wing parties have an electoral incentive to increase the share of one of their core voter groups. At the same time, since left-wing governments, as most governments, operate under budget constraints, they also need to effect such increases during opportune times, i.e. election years.The phenomenon could work the other way around too: incumbent right-wing and centrist governments might decrease the number of public employees during a year when an election is to be held and/or pursue policies which increase the overall level of private employment without increasing the level of public employment at the same pace.

This interacting effect of left-wing governments and election years only seems to hold for elections held in the year in which the government’s term formally expires, the so-called exogenous election years. This result again suggests that left-wing governments do indeed time increases during election years. Figure 2 shows the average level of public employment under left-wing and non-left governments in years where the government’s term formally expires. This clearly shows a much larger average difference in the level of public employment than the average difference in Figure 1, a result which is also found when using regression analysis.

Figure 2: Average levels of public employment under left-wing and non-left-wing government in exogenous election years, 1995-2010 (%).

Note: Data for public employment is from the International Labour Organization’s LABORSTA database, while for total employment is from the OECD’s database.

These results suggest that left-wing parties, at least in recent years, might indeed sometimes work towards increasing public employment levels when in power but that their motivations to do so may be more related to an incentive to win elections rather than a purely ideological preference for higher levels of public employment. More broadly, the results suggest that government partisanship might indeed matter for public policy. However, government ideology seems to not always be enough to produce a policy shift: partisan governments also have to face electoral incentives to comply with their expected ideological inclinations, a phenomenon also found in other policy areas.


Note: the above draws on the author’s published work in Political Studies.

About the Author

Lasse Aaskoven is Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Essex.




All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

Parliament has breached the spirit and intent of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, rendering it meaningless

By calling an early election, government and parliament have effectively breached both the spirit and intent of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, writes Martin J. Bull. He explains the implications of this outcome and concludes that it is difficult to see the act surviving another legislative session. 

With the focus of all attention in UK politics now on the forthcoming General Election, very little attention has been paid to what has just occurred in its parliament: the passage of a law which is patently in breach of the spirit and intent of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (FTPA) passed in 2011. Section 1, Article 3 of this Act states that ‘The polling day for each subsequent parliamentary general election is to be the first Thursday in May in the fifth calendar year following that in which the polling day for the previous parliamentary general election fell.’

The FTPA also lays down explicit and limited provisions for there to be a General Election earlier than this date. These are either that the House of Commons passes, by a two-thirds majority, a Motion proposing ‘That there shall be an early parliamentary general election’, or the House of Commons passes a formal vote of no confidence in the government and is subsequently unable to pass a vote of confidence in a new government after 14 days have elapsed from the passing of the first motion. In these circumstances, Parliament will be dissolved 25 days before polling day. And the Act is explicit in stating that ‘Parliament cannot otherwise be dissolved’.

Yet none of these conditions were met when Parliament decided to hold a General Election on 12 December 2019. In contrast with his predecessor, Theresa May (whose proposed early election for 8 June 2017 was supported by a two-thirds majority in the Commons), Prime Minister Boris Johnson failed on three successive occasions (3 Sept, 10 Sept, 24 Oct) to secure the requisite two-thirds majority for an early parliamentary election. He then decided simply to circumvent the FTPA through new legislation which stated simply that ‘An early parliamentary general election is to take place on 12 December 2019 in consequence of the passing of this Act’ and ‘That day is to be treated as a polling day appointed under section 2(7) of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011’.

As an item of new legislation, it needed only a simple majority to pass. He was aided and abetted in this manoeuvre by the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party, both of whom wanted an early parliamentary election (and had proposed an alternative mechanism via amending the Act through a simple majority), and was supported by the official position of the Labour Party.

Of course, in most other liberal democracies this would likely have been unconstitutional – if not a constitutional outrage – in the sense that the mechanisms by which parliaments can be dissolved are invariably entrenched in the Constitution. But the Prime Minister was able to exploit the fact that the UK political system is not, as such, based on a formal, codified, written Constitution, but on a different principle: parliamentary sovereignty. And this principle means that there is no distinction between constitutional laws and ordinary laws, and therefore no parliament can be bound by the Acts of its predecessors. Hence, the government and parliament were able to ride roughshod over a law which was of constitutional ‘significance’ in order to get their political way.

Yet, in 2016, when an official petition calling for an early General Election was signed by over 100,000 signatures (on the back of the Panama Papers scandal and Prime Minister David Cameron’s revelation that he had an investment in an off-shore trust), the government rejection of the request stated that ‘the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act means no Government can call an early general election any more’. Clearly, Boris Johnson’s advisers no longer recognised the validity of that position.

The FTPA was passed under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, but it was not designed purely to enhance the stability and duration of that coalition. Rather, it was also aimed at responding to several problems of a system based, until then, on Prime Ministerial prerogative to dissolve parliament at a time of his/her choosing (by advising the Monarch to do so). This was widely viewed as giving an unfair political advantage to the Prime Minister. It was regarded as encouraging Prime Ministers to use elections to try and solve their own political problems (when often the election then failed to do so). And it was regarded as being at the root of feverish periods of political pre-electioneering and government stasis when a premature dissolution was widely anticipated (but possibly not acted upon). Overall, the provisions of the FTPA were clearly designed to ensure that parliamentary terms were fixed and that the mechanisms by which this could be circumvented were limited, exceptional in nature and the only mechanisms available. So, what is the point of the FTPA if it can be dispensed with so easily?

Not much if truth be told for it seems to work only as long as a parliamentary majority wants it to work. As with much in the UK political system, its operation was based more on trust and goodwill than on the detail of the law itself. The protagonists of the FTPA never envisaged a situation arising of the existence of a minority government but an opposition refusing to table a motion of no confidence.

Moreover, the FTPA tinkered with a matter of constitutional significance while ignoring the implications of ‘oversight’ needed in any system based on fixed-term parliaments. Several parliamentary democracies delegate such oversight to a President who is elected or appointed from within the political system. This gives Presidents greater authority and legitimacy to act as arbiters and political impartial actors in the resolution of matters pertaining to the dissolution of legislatures. But in the UK there is universal agreement that a hereditary Monarch should not be ‘dragged into politics’, leaving the government to act without restraint.

The FTPA is, therefore, not long for this world. The Conservative Party Manifesto of 2017 promised to repeal it, but Teresa May failed to secure a parliamentary majority and no legislation was brought forward. But it is difficult to see it surviving another legislative session. This is less because of the possible reoccurrence of an embarrassing situation of a British Prime Minister effectively being held hostage in Downing Street, than because the FTPA fails to do what it is meant to do and prevent a Prime Minister from choosing the date of the next General Election. The calling of this early General Election was, after all, the decision of a minority government dependent upon the votes of the opposition to secure it. But the real significance of the vote was that it confirmed that a Prime Minister with a large majority could, in the future, act in precisely the same way without the need of opposition votes. For what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.


About the Author

Martin J. Bull is Professor of Politics in the School of Arts & Media at the University of Salford and Director of the European Consortium of Political Research.



All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

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