Sunday, May 3, 2009

Instead of complaining

No matter how often and how carefully one explains that Britain not having a presidential system prime ministers are not elected, too many people respond by complaining (to put it politely) that Gordon Brown or whatever stupid nickname they decide to give him was not elected.

Indeed not and neither was any prime minister, especially not those who took over between elections. That would be Churchill in 1940, Eden in 1955, Macmillan in 1957, Douglas-Home in 1963, Callaghan in 1976 and Major in 1991 as well as Brown in 2007. It is the party that is elected and it is the party that decides who is to be the leader.

In many ways this is unsatisfactory and shows up once again that there is no real separation of powers in Britain with the Executive being part of the Legislative and, consequently, strongly in control of it. That, rather than the existence of parties, imposes constraints on MPs. (We are assuming that MPs, unconstrained, would actually be decent human beings.)

One could argue that with a smaller majority the Legislative would acquire more control over the Executive. Given the fact that between seventy and eighty per cent of our legislation comes from the EU with Parliament either knowing nothing about it or being unable to reject it, control of government is all our parliamentarians can hope for - power they cannot have and, apparently, they do not miss it.

Assuming that this country will one day be independent and sovereign again, should we not think of a different political system, one which would separate the two branches of government? Should the resignation of a Prime Minister necessarily entail a general election, thus allowing the people have some say in the matter of the next leader of the country? Alternatively, could we not have something resembling the American system in which the head of the Executive is elected separately from the Legislative and then chooses his (no women so far) cabinet, which is then approved of or otherwise by the Legislative? The question there would be how to reconcile that with a Monarchy, which is still the most popular body in this country and has many useful attributes, not least keeping politicians in their place.

It used to be the case that an MP who accepted a paid governmental position or an "office of profit" had to resign and a by-election was called. Though this principle is enshrined in the Act of Settlement (1701) and Act of Union (1707) and is still adhered to in the United States where it was enshrined in the Constitution. Since 1919, however, we have abandoned the notion in Britain and MPs are merrily accepting emoluments under the Crown without having to face the electors again. Despite the howl of outrage that would follow such a suggestion, a return to the ideas written into the Act of Settlement could be a first step towards a better regulated political system of separated powers.


  1. I think you proved my point.

    Gordo has never been ELECTED Prime Minister.

    But thanks anyway for the history lesson (no, I'm not being sarcastic).

  2. The queen keeps the politicians in thier place?or should that be the queen colludes with them against the wishes of the people?As to the act of settlement/bill of rights/English common law,all of these things worked very well,which is perhaps why the commies trashed them.

  3. Aspiring politicians should take a general knowledge test, not a test of intelligence,as I found out some time ago one of the elected did not know what a carpenters hammer was used for,I mean we all know 2 plus 2 equals 5 but when you need someone to show you how to tie your shoe laces?

  4. And you've proved my point Flabslab - you really don't know what you are talking about and appear to have no desire to find out.

    Why on earth does a politician need to know what a carpenter's hammer is for? A politician is not a carpenter. Do you know how to use a darning needle, Nottoobrite?

    On the whole, I am sorry that nobody so far has taken up the questions I raised and the few comments just continue complaining. Ah well, maybe in the next batch.

  5. Helen,
    I agree that a greater separation of powers would be a very good thing if the UK's population could ever regain political control. I'm not too happy with the american system though, as it seems to have become the plaything of lawyers (as have most "western" parliaments). And that is the reason that Nottoobrite's comments should perhaps be taken a tiny bit more seriously. As you will be well aware, there is a healthy tradition of expecting politicians to have a certain engagement with the concerns and activities of the wider populace which is more accurately represented by knowledge of the purposes of hammers and darning needles than by an ability to name and emulate the latest plastic celebrities.

  6. If the ‘office of profit’ (still there with the Chiltern Hundreds) was compulsory it would enable MPs to call the executive to the Commons to explain themselves as to why a policy was adopted or not as the case maybe. The hope would be that MPs away from the direct influence of the executive would have the courage to challenge policies before voting took place.
    Also why not reintroduce the Grand Jury? The objective being to empanel a jury to see if a crime has been committed by the executive, such as deceiving parliament.

  7. Brown was indeed elected - to his parliamentary seat. Labour members were elected to a majority of seats, which is why there is a Labour government, and these members elected Brown to be PM. This is as it has always been. If the PM were (for example) Lord West of Spithead, saying he was unelected would be a valid complaint.

    But "power they cannot have and, apparently, they do not miss it"? It doesn't appear to me that they don't miss it. It appears to me that they miss it so much that, having nothing better to do, they occupy their copious free time giving themselves Draconian powers in areas they have no business.

    Incidentally, wouldn't you regard the US Secretary of State as a cabinet position? Or are you in doubt about the present Secretary's gender?

  8. Curtail the use of statutory instruments.

    Sunset clauses. This would mean legislation would return to Parliament at a set interval and would need to be re-debated and voted on to keep it on the statute books. It would take the choice of re-visiting legislation out of the hands of the Executive. Though how much new debate and appropriate amending or striking out would be done I can't imagine.

    Legislation debated in Parliament that has EU origins should be admitted as such at every step. Perhaps even going so far as to print it on different coloured paper so even viewers and visitors know from whence it came. It should be impossible to skirt around the involvement of the EU on our Parliament.

    MPs should be well aware of their duty to the nation and to Parliament over and above their duty to their party. Are they ever given pointers on how to effectively cross examine Ministers and civil servants either in the house or at committees?

    Whips wield substantial influence. Destroy them. Make as many votes as possible free and binding. Why aren't all votes free votes?

    Serial abstainers from voting should be getting swift kicks up the arse, repeatedly, until they begin to do the job they were elected to do. Genuine conflicts of interest should have to be declared in order to abstain but that conflict should never be simply 'I don't want to vote against my party'.

    MPs seem to regard the their party selecting them as more important than their constituents electing them.

  9. Incidentally, wouldn't you regard the US Secretary of State as a cabinet position? Or are you in doubt about the present Secretary's gender?No I am not in doubt. But the sentence reads:

    Alternatively, could we not have something resembling the American system in which the head of the Executive is elected separately from the Legislative and then chooses his (no women so far) cabinet, which is then approved of or otherwise by the Legislative?In other words the "his" clearly refers to the head of the Executive, that is the President. And no, there have been no women so far.