Monday, July 11, 2016

May the Least Worst Candidate Win

So, the 'least worse' candidate has, by default, won the Tory leadership election, following the withdrawal of her only remainig rival.  The number of high profile withdrawals from this leadership race leaves one wondering whether someone had the 'goods' on the candidates in question. Were there compromising photos in the hands of some party with a vested interest in seeing Theresa May succeed?  Actually, just the thought of such photographs involving Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom is nauseating.  Just one look at them would probably strike you blind.  You know, the thing about this whole Tory leadership contest which has left me speechless is the tone of much of the media commentary.  I've lost count of the number of times I've heard, seen or read, political commentators noting the fact that the new Tory leader will automatically become Prime Minister with a tone of astonishment.  Over and again, I've heard reporters who really should know better, expressing surprise at the fact that it will be a few thousand Tory party members who will get to decide who the new premier will be.  The words 'unelected Prime Minister' have been bandied around the media, both mainstream and social, with the clear implication that democracy has somehow been subverted.

Which is complete and utter bollocks of course.  I find it quite depressing that even supposedly professional political commentators are nowadays so ill informed that they don't grasp the workings of the UK's constitutional arrangements.  To reiterate a point I've made over and over again, we do not directly elect a Prime Minister in the UK.  We never have,  We do not have direst democracy in the UK.  We never have.  We have a parliamentary democracy, whereby we elect a parliament of our representatives.  Whoever, out of those representatives, can command a majority in parliament, (these days it only has to be in the Commons), whether by leading the party with the most seats, or by being able to form some coalition which can muster a  majority, gets to be Prime Minister.  (Even the fact that they must be an elected MP is a relatively recent convention - as recently as the early years of the last century, it was possible for a member of the Lords - who are definitely unelected - to become Prime Minister if the party they were affiliated to had a Commons majority).   All of which means, of course, that Prime Ministers can resign, retire, even die and be replaced without the necessity for a general election. 

It is only in recent years that this bizarre and unconstitutional idea that a Prime Minister is only legitimate if they come to power as the result of a general election has started to take root.  An idea which demonstrates a profound ignorance of both the British constitution and two hundred and fifty years or so of political history.  For the record, a surprising number of our best known Prime Minister's ascended to the post mid-term in a parliament: Lloyd George, Eden, MacMillan, Callaghan, Major, Brown, for instance.  Oh, and let's not forget that, despite becoming Prime Minister in 1940, Winston Churchill didn't actually win a general election until 1951, when he was returned to Downing Street.  He only became Prime Minister in 1940as the result of a series of 'back room deals'. (Basically, neither of the other two main possibilities, Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, commanded sufficient support in the Commons to form the 'national government' required to pursue the war -Chamberlain because of Munich, Halifax because he'd made statements implying that he saw Bolshevism as a greater threat than Nazi Germany.  Only Churchill had sufficient anti-Nazi credentials to gain the support of the Labour party, which was crucial to forming a national government).  So, no, we don't need a snap election to 'legitimise' Theresa May as Prime Minister - her legitimacy derive from her ability to command a majority in the Commons, (just like every previous Prime Minister).  Besides, right now, under the non-leadership of Corbyn, the Labour Party would likely suffer further, disastrous losses, effectively destroying it as a credible political force.



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