Tuesday, May 5

Just a thought

No matter how often and how carefully one explains, as I do to overseas clients from time to time, that the UK 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 the UK 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 the UK 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 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. Well it was just a thought!

No comments: