Friday, September 08, 2006

"suns of glory"

posted by k

A few months ago, Labour Party MPs and journalists were arguing about whether there should be a contest or a coronation. Gordon Brown would look great in robes and the state crown.

But this isn't about a nominal head of state. There's going to be a change in prime minister. The prime minister can enter into treaties and declare war on behalf of the country. He or she can make all kinds of laws, sneaking them through parliament as "statutory instruments". Lately cabinet government - let alone parliamentary government - has seemed like a myth. There are no votes in cabinets and sometimes there are debates without votes - or without effective votes - in parliament.

In theory the queen will appoint the prime minister - he is her prime minister just as we are her subjects. If she wanted, she could sack Tony Blair tomorrow and appoint Glenda Jackson or Rowan Atkinson or Alex Ferguson or the Marquess of Bath.

She probably won't do anything so interesting - though (who knows?) it might be an improvement. Instead she will accept the choice of the governing Labour Party.

But why should she? And why should we?

At the last election, Labour Party candidates received about 36% of votes cast. Because a large number of people didn't vote at all, those votes represented the wishes of 26% of the elctorate.

The new prime minister won't even be appointed by Labour voters but by Labour Party members. A small percentage of the population will take a decision that will affect everyone. It will affect people abroad as well as in Britain. People may be killed by guns and bombs and starvation because of the decision of that small percentage of British voters who gave money to New Labour.

Restricting the vote for prime minister to party members creates an electorate who paid for their votes. The people who vote for the next prime minister will have paid at least £24 (the lowest annual subscription to the Labour Party) for the privilege.

If Britain were a real parliamentary democracy, in which all MPs could affect decisions and change minds, this might not matter so much. But Britain has a system of command by powerpoint presentations in cabinet and dictatorial party whips in the House of Commons.

As for genuine debate public political debate ....
Genuine debate which had a real effect would almost certainly be more responsible than the mess of fears encouraged by a number of politicians and newspaper owners.

The appointment of a new prime minister, under the current system, may be an unusual new soap opera - or even the cause for fierce concern among the members of his party. I shall watch the process and be entertained.

But I should be involved.

The entire electorate of Britain should be involved in process. It's time for democracy.


Anonymous Gerard Mulholland said...

I agree that when a PM goes early his Party should get a new Leader and then the people should decide which Party Leader should be the new PM. However I must say I don't recall any outcry about this on previous occasions. In 1990 Thatcher went leaving Major 18 clear months; in 1976 Wilson left Callaghan 3 years, in 1963 Macmillan gave Douglas-Home 12 full months, when Eden quit in 1957 Macmillan had 3 and a half years to go - and took all but 9 months of them and when Churchill quit in 1955 he left Eden 18 months. (Eden chose to have an immediate election with himself already PM - he didn't have to.) This hoo-ha is mostly just Tories making trouble. When back in they won't change the rules at all.

4:02 pm  
Blogger areopagitica said...

This isn't me listening to the tories. This is me trying to think the question through from first principles. When there was cabinet government - and when parliament had a greater say - it was a different question. Because of the nature of Blair's premiership (presidency?) it seems likely that his successor will take on a greater degree of power. I hope I'm wrong about that. And I'd rather address the question of the role of the prime minister, cabinet and parliament than hold a presidential election. I'd even like to see a real shift of power to the people. A dream, I know, at the moment but I think I'll keep dreaming.


3:56 pm  
Anonymous Gerard Mulholland said...

On reflection, as Blair and Prescott have both declared their intentions to resign as LEADER and DEPUTY LEADER of THE LABOUR PARTY but neither has ever mentioned resigning as PRIME MINISTER or as DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, perhaps it wasn't the Tories who started these rumours but someone in 10 Downing Street!
After all, Blair did say during the last election that if Labour won, he would serve a full term.
Well, it could well turn out to be the only promise he'll have ever kept!

1:51 pm  

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