Monday, 19 January 2009

An Illegitemate Prime Minister

I want an Election. Now.

My previous posts today have been based on a critique of Gordon's policy. The view expressed in this post is independent of that and would apply even if I agreed with everything he did.

We, as a nation, have a belief in democracy; one that we have seen fit to impose by force on others. We have a set of rules that are steeped in history and which date from a time before this country was democratic. Whilst those rules permit democracy, they do not guarantee it. Democracy has generally been achieved in recent times (despite this) through the use of conventions and accepted practices. A trivial example sof this is that we (i.e. the people) do not choose the Prime Minister; Her Majesty does so. By convention, she chooses the leader of the largest party in the Commons and thereby democracy is (usually) achieved. But that achievement is not a function of the rules per se; it is the result of the way that those rules are applied and exercised.

Gordon was not elected to his current position. In fact, he has never faced a serious electoral challenge; he represents a safe Scottish Labour seat in which his election as an MP was never seriously in doubt. He did not stand for election to the leadership of the Labour Party; instead he operated behind the scenes to prevent others from standing against him. He does not therefore have any serious credentials as a democrat.

Worse, there is no personal mandate that he can claim. Blair won the last election; Gordon was not formally presented as his deputy and therefore inherits no actual "deputy's mandate" from Blair. Of course, it was generally known that Brown was the most likely successor to Blair, but in the face of questions as to how long he could hold Brown off, Blair promised to serve a full term. The implication of that was crystal clear; Blair would not stand down mid-term in favour of Brown. Blair was elected on that basis and therefore Brown cannot claim an effective "deputy's mandate" from Blair. (We could argue forever as to whether Blair would have been elected without that promise, but it is irrelevant. That was the deal New Labour chose to offer to the people.)

Then, when an opportunity arose to call a General Election to establish his mandate, he declined.

So, thinking back, Gordon has no electoral history he can call on. He has no democratic support from elected MPs. He has no form of inherited mandate. He has declined to seek his own mandate.

His only claim to his current position is that the rules say he is entitled. Indeed, he has done nothing (so far as I am aware) that is outside those rules. However, as noted above, those rules do not guarantee democracy; to do so requires the honest application of discretion by the holders of various senior positions. Gordon has avoided this and has thereby avoided democracy.

The nearest precedent that we have is, of course, John Major. He, however, arrived at the Prime Minstership after a resignation which he was not responsible for. He was elected by MPs in a contested leadership election. Within a reasonable time, he submitted to a General Election. Admittedly, the 1992 election was held only when it became absolutely necessary, but this was still within a reasonable period after his succession at the end of 1990.

More significantly - and this is why Gordon's failures are becoming harmful - the period between the end of 1990 and April 1992 was one in which domestic politics was, generally, "business as usual". Major could therefore claim, with a straight face, that the general policy outlook on which his party was elected in 1987 was being continued. Given this, and given the nature of his arrival at No: 10, he could credibly claim an inherited mandate to govern in the way that he did.

We are now facing a wholly different outlook to that of 2005, and the policies that are being applied are wholly different to those put forward by Blair et al. A clear example is that a party which was elected after it explicitly and publicly abandoned its committment to public ownership is now nationalising a number of banks. Regardless of whether you think this is the right thing to do in the circumstances or not, there is no legitemate authority to do so granted by the people.

Gordon: you have abused the rules and conventions of our system of government in order to place yourself in No: 10 and take steps for which you have no authority. The honourable course of action would have been to call a General Election and put yourself forward for the people to approve your appointment. You did not do so; you are a dishourable holder of your office. Get out.


  1. Another issue is that the PM and Government have so much power now even compared to 1990-1992 that Brown can do virtually whatever he personally wants, without reference even to his own MPs.

    E.g. Heathrow, Lisbon, etc. etc.

    An election is a necessary but insufficient part of the process to give voters a real say over government policy. We need serious and extensive constitutional change. The only constitutional change that Labour have offered debate on (rather than just go on with regardless) is silly messing around with the HoL. Behind the scenes they have been taking down the paper walls which used to provide checks and balances.

  2. Very true.

    People think that constitutional issues are boring and therefore don't matter. Labour thinks that constitutional checks are conservatism in action and an impediment to decisive government.

    The first step is an election, though.

  3. Governments, naturally enough, will always seek to increase their power. It is *supposed* to be the job of Parliament to put a check on that power. This is why we need to remove the conflict of interest that MPs in the governing party suffer.

  4. Yes, Parliament needs to be more independent of the executive. At the moment, the PM effectively decides what scrutiny Parliament is permited to exercise. The only limit, therefore, is the degree of arrogance that the PM is willing to display.

    Until 1997, this seemed to work; PMs didn't fiddle with the rules. Then Blair decided that PMQs would only be once a week and the lack of any backlash seems to have given carte blanche to New Labour to change whatever they like.

    There needs to be an agreed set of rules setting out the powers of Parliament and MPs, which the executive cannot change. The only way I can think of introducing this (short of a huge constitutional upheaval) is for the Queen to set them out as part of her appointment of the PM.

  5. It is lucky for Brown that the deadly economic situation masks his weakness as he is the most uncharismatic leader this country has seen.

  6. I want this government out too. I'm worried about my kids in the UK. They are finding it difficult to manage and they are terrified of silly things.

    They are literally paranoid! It's not a good or healthy way to live.

    What about a facebook site demanding an election?

  7. Can I pinch your "No Confidence" sticker and put it on my blog?

  8. Can I pinch your "No Confidence" sticker and put it on my blog?

    You'll be wanting to look at Stuart Sharpe's site at: