Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Coming General Election

OK, time for another series. I decided I was going to talk about voting reform; but thought that first, for the benefits of non-UK readers and the like, I ought to explain our electoral system over here, much as I discussed the Yanklander system last time. Also, I think I'd end the second (of what I plan to be three parts) with stating my preference of electoral systems, and saying why. From there, in the Spirit of From Despair to Where the final post will be about fantasy reformism, or what sort of leftist I would be were I not in the SPGB. Get your thinking caps on, I'll want responses.

Anyway, so, British Elections. First and most important point. In the UK we do not elect a President, Prime Minister or the Government (though there are systems which do, America and Israel respectively spring to mind). We elect a Parliament. That is, we elect one geographically based representative to go to Parliament.

Now, it's important to remember that in the UK, Parliament is Sovereign. This needs clarifying now, because otherwise the rest gets confusing. To clarify. Recently, the highest court in the land ruled the old terrorism law to be unconstitutional. unlike the US, this did not immediately strike the law down - parliamentarians asserted their sovereign right to make law, and the law remained operative until Parliament resolved the dispute by making new law.

OK, this is important because, Parliament does not elect the Prime Minister. There is no vote, no official power, it is merely conventional that a Prime Minister be a member of Parliament and have the support of a majority of MP's in the House of Commons. The Monarch appoints the Prime Minister. Formally.

Parliament, though, is Soveriegn, and that means, as the supreme power in the land, it reserved the right to remove monarchs who get in its way. So a Prime Minister should have support in the House of Commons, thought technically, it could be anyone on Earth the monarch chooses.

Technically, the Monarch also appoints all cabinet ministers, since they serve the Crown (Not Parliament nor the Prime Minister). However, the Monarch can do no wrong - which translates to doing nothing. The Monarch follows the advice of Ministers, and so will appoint Ministers nominated by the Prime Minister. That is, really, the Prime Minister appoints the cabinet/government. Ministers, again, should be members of Parliament, and this includes the House of Lords. However, Cabinet ministers should be members of the Commons - though a couple of Years ago Baroness Amos was, IIRC, briefly Overseas Development Secretary.

Members of the House of Commons are elected by First-Past-the-Post. That is, simply, in an election a constituency returns one representatives, and that representative has the most votes of all the candidates. Very often this means that a candidate with a minority of the total vote wins. On average tehre are, if I recall correctly, something like 60,000 voters per constituency. Most MP's get to Parliament with around 20,000 votes - often fewer.

That's it, quite simple, really, and that will set the stage for part two. Just to precis. In the UK, we elect representatives to a Parliament that then actually, not formally, appoints a Prime Minsiters who appoints a Government. We do not elect a government, but support a party that will form a government thrrough it's control of teh house of Commons. The House of Lords is not elected by the people, it is now entirely elected by the Prime Minister and a special commission.


Blogger Phil said...

"Cabinet ministers should be members of the Commons - though a couple of Years ago Baroness Amos was, IIRC, briefly Overseas Development Secretary."

Actually this wasn't an innovation of Blair's. Selecting Cabinet members solely from the House of Commons is a convention, and (I think) a relatively recent one at that. Even the dodge of giving someone a peerage so that they can be brought into government isn't Blair's invention; Wilson did it, as did Thatcher. Formally the British Cabinet system has nothing in common with the US system, in which the executive is made up of presidential appointees; in practice there are distinct similarities.

11:56 AM  

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