Churchill was an ‘unelected PM’. [My latest EDP ONEWORLD column]

By Rupert Read

Last Saturday, I was in London, taking part in a big demonstration in Trafalgar Square in favour of changing on antiquated voting system in this country. Alongside Libdems, Greens, one or two Conservatives and UKIP-ites, and many people belong to no political party, I marched with Billy Bragg to where the Conservatives and LibDems were talking about a possible coalition. We chanted “No deal without PR [proportional representation]”, until eventually Nick Clegg felt obliged to come out and address us. I stood a few yards away from him, as he spoke with us and (sometimes) we chanted back friendlily to him. It felt like democracy alive.

Now, a week later (how long a week can be in politics!), Nick Clegg is actually Deputy Prime Minister, in a coalition with the Conservatives. And all the intervening worries about how we might end up with ‘an unelected Prime Minister’ (if we had ended up with Brown’s successor as Labour Leader, as Prime Minister) seem like ancient history.

But they are not. For the new coalition government, whatever its faults (and I suspect that they will be many), is promising some interesting political reforms. We may end up with a changed electoral system (not, sadly, PR, but at least AV, the ‘Alternative Vote’ system, in which you rank the candidates in order of your preference, and therefore no candidate can be elected without a majority of votes). We may end up with an elected second chamber. And we will probably end up with fixed-term-Parliaments.

Now, if we have fixed-term Parliaments, and if those Parliaments are hung (as they often will be, especially under AV voting), this makes it inevitable that there will sometimes be ‘unelected Prime Ministers’. For, if power changes hands during a fixed-term Parliament – if there is a rupture that forces a change in what the governing coalition is – then the Prime Minister will by definition be changing without a new election.

Some might say this is awful, having an ‘unelected Prime Minister’. But note the following three facts:

  1. We are not talking about a Prime Minister from the House of Lords. We are talking about a Prime Minister who has been elected just like any other MP, to our House of Commons. We have a Parliamentary system, not a Presidential system (the misleading format of the TV debates notwithstanding). MPs choose who the Prime Minister is, the people don’t choose the PM directly. We saw this in action a few days ago, when it was the balance of preferences among the MPs that ultimately determined that it was Cameron who would end up in number 10.
  2. Many countries on the Continent are well-used to this. Germany, for instance – and if you travel Germany’s railways, see Germany’s green infrastructure, etc., then you’ll know that Germany is often governed much better than Britain…
  3. Commentators have often pointed out recently that it is exactly 70 years since Churchill’s coalition government was formed. But they omit to mention that Churchill too was an ‘unelected Prime Minister’. He succeeded to power after Chamberlain resigned, without any intervening General Election. If being an ‘unelected PM’ was good enough for the man who is by popular acclaim the ‘greatest Briton ever’ (though actually Churchill wasn’t great in how he behaved toward the miners, Gandhi, etc. – but that’s a story for another occasion), then it should be good enough for us now.
As I say, if we have fixed-term Parliaments (which would end the ludicrous uncertainty about when General Elections are going to be), then we will get used to it being thus. And why shouldn’t we; for there just is no decisive argument, at the end of the day, in our political system, against having a so-called ‘unelected Prime Minister’.

4 thoughts on “Churchill was an ‘unelected PM’. [My latest EDP ONEWORLD column]”

  1. I do not agree with the fixed term parliament. At the moment the term is “up to” that period anyway, so by fixing it at the max, you are reducing the peoples opportunities for participation and casting their decision. And I understand the 50% +1 rule, but not 55%. Why this and not 52% or 60% etc – seems somewhat self serving to pick an arbitrary %.

    What would be a useful post Rupert, would be to hear what Caroline will be doing to take advantage of her unique position…some positive news please!

  2. ‘Listen again’ to Caroline on Any Questions last night – she says some thing about what she will be doing, and challenges the particular version of fixed term parliaments that the Tories are planning to bring in.

  3. Thanks Rupert, enjoyed that. I couldn’t get a clear idea of what the Greens are advocating with fixed term elections. However, I did find the comments on nuclear interesting as well as comments about the impact Caroline can have.

    I was having a discussion with friends about Green policies (which I generally support) and I was being bombarded with allegations that they want to tax businesses and the wealthy to an extent that it would harm our economy. Caroline mentioned the Robin Hood tax which I think is the sort of thing that scares them.

    What would the Greens do to encourage businesses? I’m aware of the ideas for ‘GreenTech’ but what about smaller to medium sized businesses, local start ups etc.

    Although I am a supporter of fairness, there is a deep feeling in this country that many of the less well off do not have much to offer, and investing in them is not a good investment because it is highly costly, and the benefits for the country are small (but probably not for the recipients of the support). Those that have worked all their lives, worked to achieve more in their field and earn more, will be hugely taxed to fund those that may not have contributed much. In fact this is what attracted them, unfortunately, to the Tories.

    I would agree with someone who is wealthy through inheritance or not ‘self made’ being taxed heavily, especially if they do not contribute much using their wealth. Or even those who are in unethical employment (such as nuclear weapons, environmentally & socially destructive trades etc) But how do you identify those who ‘deserve’ to be taxed more, to ensure genuine fairness for those that have struggled to get to where they are. And then, how do you enforce it?

    If you could crack that one, I think many more people would be persuaded to vote Green. This seemed to be the sticking point when I was promoting the Greens.

  4. Fixed term Parliaments: the key worry with the Tories’ proposals is that they are making it impossible for Parliament to be dissolved without THEIR say-so. Look closely at the dodgy details of the proposals.
    Robin Hood tax: That’s just another name for the Tobin Tax, which is to stop currency speculation – it will have no negative effect at all on ordinary people! But it will raise hundreds of billions of pounds, which could come in handy…
    Basically, Green proposals would tax the top 10% more, and the bottom 80% less. It is eight times likelier that you would benefit from them than otherwise!
    In terms of business: we ARE the Party for small businesses. We oppose globalisation and the big-business-friendly policies of all the 3 old Parties. Look at Norwich: only Greens stand firm against supermarkets and malls, and in favour of ‘the Norwich Lanes’, ‘Buy Local’, etc.

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