The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is the person who enjoys the confidence of the House of Commons. It is the most fundamental principle of our constitution. The Prime Minister’s democratic mandate emanates from Members of Parliament, themselves accountable to the public through our general elections.
If, as expected, Liz Truss becomes Prime Minister next week, she will arguably be the least trusted Prime Minister in MPs when she takes office in modern British history. On the first ballot, Truss received only 50 votes (around 15%) from fellow MPs, down from Theresa May in 2016 (50%), John Major in 1990 (50%) and Gordon Brown in 2007 (88%). ) .
Indeed, even when the candidates were narrowed down to two, Tory MPs preferred Rishi Sunak to enter No 10, over Truss. But, according to the party’s constitutional rules, they outsourced the decision to their members. For the first time in modern political history, the Prime Minister will be chosen by members of a political party rather than by parliamentarians themselves. Members of the Conservative Party will decide who will lead our government.
It is a strange anomaly that has developed in our constitution. A group of people, about whom we know little, will decide the fate of the country. We don’t know exactly how many people make up this group. With estimates between 180,000 and 200,000, they would represent around 0.29% of the population. Research suggests that 97% of Tory members are white and 54% live in London and the south. Why is this important? Isn’t it undemocratic that some 350 deputies (mostly white and from the south of the country) choose our Prime Minister? I do not agree.
First, there is an important principle at stake. The Prime Minister does not serve the Conservative Party, but the country. The deputies were elected by the people as their representatives, but they will now be stuck with a leader, at any reading of the figures, they do not want. A Prime Minister will be elected despite the opinion of the representatives of the people, not thanks to them.
Secondly, there is a very practical reason why our constitution provides that the Prime Minister is the person who obtains the support of the House: he can, in general, pass laws and get things done. It provides some stability. Already there are whispers that Tory MPs will seek to get rid of Truss, a candidate they do not support, as early as May next year. It is not a well-functioning constitution.
Third, the debate that consumed the summer is divorced from reality because Truss and Sunak are not held accountable by those who need public support to keep their seats, but by party members. They are, one might suppose, probably wealthy, socially conservative “golf club borers” – to borrow Alastair Campbell’s phrase. the description – with both candidates set to look to the right for power, knowing full well that they will have to think again upon taking office and spend much of their time pivoting on promises made previously. This is not an adult debate about who should become Prime Minister, but a popularity contest among a discreet – and very right – part of the population.
This is not a partisan attack. Labor members may have had a chance to choose the prime minister in 2007, but Brown was proposed to members without contest. In my opinion, members of any party should not choose the Prime Minister. This is a role for MPs. The situation is very different when it is in opposition: the party chooses a leader of an organization, often licks its wounds after a defeat, and must reconsider its future. It does not elect any representative of the executive.
This should not dull the members, who should have an important role in the leadership of any party. But this should be done by placing them at the heart of the selection of candidates for parliament, political decisions and the constitution of the party. Members should not join a party to choose who should be prime minister, but who leads the Labor Party to win the public vote.
The growing tendency to involve party members in national political decision-making – by all parties – is a symptom of the “false democratization” of modern politics. There is an idea that by involving more people, but not all, or having all people decide on an issue (Brexit) but not all (what happens next), the mechanism is more democratic. The reality is that we live in a representative democracy and our representatives need to be more empowered.
It is unlikely that either party will be able to return to a position where MPs choose the Prime Minister, but it could be a courageous and principled development to be undertaken on a cross-party basis at the ‘coming. This would lead to a healthier democracy and constitution.
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