How does the British Prime Minister come to office?

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Adam Lenhardt, Sep 2, 2006.

  1. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    The president of the United States is elected to up to two terms of four years each by an electorial college assigned based on the popular vote of the American citizens. It's clearly laid out in Article II of the U.S. Constitution.
    With the buzz around Gordon Brown rising to Prime Minister before the end of the current parliament, I got to wondering how does the Prime Minister get elected? From what or whom is his power derived? Is he or she essentially the equivalent of the House or Senate Majority Leader. What research I have done outlines a complex system of custom and folklore intermingled with an opaque role of the British Sovereign (presumably Elizabeth II?).
    Is there anybody out there from the UK willing (or able!) to explain it to me?
     
  2. BrianB

    BrianB Producer

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    The Prime Minister isn't elected directly. The party with the most seats in the House of Commons forms the government (unless they were already controlling the government) and "advises" the Queen on who should become Prime Minister. The Queen rubber stamps it and the person becomes Prime Minister.

    So if the current Prime Minister quits before the end of term, the ruling party chooses a new Prime Minister. The Parliament Act of 1911 limits the term time of a government to 5 years, but doesn't force a particular date on the election unlike the US system.

    Here's a good overview of the British electoral system:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electio...United_Kingdom
     
  3. andrew markworthy

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    Just to slightly expand Brian's v. helpful summary - what this almost always means is that the leader of the winning political party becomes Prime Minister. The only exception to this is if the leader has failed to be elected. As far as I can recall, this has only happened once (to Gladstone, I believe, but v. happy to be corrected).

    How the leader of a political party is elected varies from party to party. Usually it isn't just the fellow members of parliament who make the choice, but also the 'ordinary' members of the party as well.
     
  4. BrianB

    BrianB Producer

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    Yup. Been re-reading a fun little memoir, "Things Can Only Get Better", about being a Labour party activist in the 80s, and it brings home how different the party was back then.

    Another thing worth mentioning is that when people vote in a General Election, they know ahead of time who the party is going to propose to be Prime Minister - it's not a secret or anything - just to be clear, but there's no option to "Vote for Tony Blair" on the ballot paper
     
  5. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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    And there have been times when minority parties have a say as well. In early May of 1940 it was obvious that Chamberlain had to go. The average Tory would have preferred Halifax. But a coalition government was desired to unify the country, and the Liberals and Labour parties said in essence "we won't serve under any Tory PM except Winston". So Winston got the nod, and as I recall made a good showing for himself in office.
     
  6. Andrew Pratt

    Andrew Pratt Producer

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    The Canadian electoral system is very much like the British system as well for what its worth.
     
  7. Francois Caron

    Francois Caron Cinematographer

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    Canada currently has a minority government in power, held by the Conservatives. The last government was run by the Liberal party and was also a minority government. That government was dissolved after losing a confidence vote in parliament related to the sponsorship scandal. In other words, they were kicked out of power. The Conservatives are now facing a similar fate relating to the softwood lumber trade conflict between Canada and the United States.

    One last item. There's no limit on how many terms of office a prime minister can hold. Case in point, Britain's Margaret Thatcher held power for 11 years, and Canada's Pierre Trudeau held power for sixteen years minus a nine month period between 1979 and 1980. The Progressive Conservatives held power during that time and lost the vote on the new budget, which is also considered a confidence vote.
     
  8. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    Thanks for the info, guys. From the sound of it the Prime Minister is essentially a Bill Frist with executive powers similar to the president, including building the government and establishing a cabinet? Does the Prime Minister necessarily have to be an MP then? Is there an opposition leader similar to Harry Reid to negociate what legislation receives precidence when? Since the Prime Minister position itself seems not to be a formal cabinet position like Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary or Lord Chancellor, how does the seated Prime Minister get paid?
     
  9. Yee-Ming

    Yee-Ming Producer

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    The British "Constitution" is unique in that it is literally unwritten. There is no single formal document one can refer to and say that it contains the UK equivalent of the US Constitution. So in the UK, everything is done "by convention", "because it's always been done this way" -- that's an oversimplification, and obviously over time things have changed, but you get the idea.

    "Prime Minister" is not literally a paid position, but instead IIRC the PM gets paid as "First Lord of the Treasury". Ah, Wiki shows IRC
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prime_M...United_Kingdom

    As the title of of Jeffrey Archer's book "First Among Equals" suggests, historically the PM was literally just that, the nominal leader of various Cabinet Ministers who were all "equal", but as time passed the PM has accrued more power to his office.

    Does PM have to be an MP? Yes in that No, he could hold a peerage and sit in the House of Lords, but I don't think there's been a Lord as PM for a very long time now. And today it would simply not be "politically correct" for an unelected lord to hold the premiership. (Checking Wiki, the last Lord as PK was Alec Douglas-Home, Earl of Home, who ironically was an MP when younger (his father was still the Earl and therefore he was not disqualified yet), entered the Lords on his father's death, became PM then renounced his earldom to stand for election to the Commons, precisely because a Lord as PM was considered impractical.)

    Opposition leader? There is one (today, David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives), and indeed he/she gets paid a formal salary as "Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition", and leads a "shadow cabinet" of opposition spokespersons who's job is to oppose a particular minister (so for instance there is a "shadow Foreign Secretary", "shadow Home Secretary" etc), but I don't think he/she has any real influence on legislative agenda. By definition (save for the unusual minority governments), a PM's party has a majority in Parliament and doesn't need the opposition's votes to run the country.
     
  10. andrew markworthy

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    Yes and no. Essentially, the Prime Minister leads the government, but the extent to which s/he alone controls it by themselves varies hugely between prime ministers. E.g. Tony Blair is rumoured to use Cabinet meetings (meetings of the senior government members) to rubber stamp whatever he wants. Other Prime Ministers have been rather more the representative of a consensus opinion. Some Brits prefer one style, some the other and thus the statement that a British Prime Minister is running a 'presidential style government' is treated with alarm by some and is seen as praise by others.

    It's also worth noting that although the public face of the British Parliament is of the different parties at each others' throats, in fact a large quantity of government is surprisingly co-operative. Members of Parliament spend a considerable amount of time sitting on government committees that do the background research into new laws and regulations, and are assisted by the elite branch of the British non-secret Civil Service. Most committees are composed of members of different parties and generally they work extremely harmoniously.

    Also, the Prime Minister has a weekly meeting with the leader of the main opposition party where the leader is kept abreast of any key developments.

    Incidentally, with regard to the unwritten constitution, in effect the constitution *is* written down, but it's scattered over a very large number of legal documents. There have been various moves over the years to create a single constitutional statement, but most Brits aren't keen. It's just one of our little quirks like tolerating a monarchy and bad food.
     
  11. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    Interesting. Thanks for all of the information! I think I at least have the gist of it now.
     
  12. Cees Alons

    Cees Alons Moderator
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    Except that they actually seem to cherish the bad food.

    Many a Brit seems to be caught with his food in his mouth, including the PM (or especially the PM). So I heard.

    (Children: explain why this sentence couldn't start like "Many Britons seem..")


    Cees
     
  13. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    Chirac says English food sucks too but not as bad as Finnish.
     
  14. Kevin Hewell

    Kevin Hewell Cinematographer

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    Having worshipped at the altar of our Consitution for all my life I find the British Parliamentery system fascinating. One of the things I have trouble getting my head around is that the Executive and Legislative arms of government are, essentially, combined.


    What?
     
  15. andrew markworthy

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    Gordon Brown is Chancellor of the Exchequer (basically, the chief finance minister and after Prime Minister arguably the most powerful post in the British government). He is widely seen as the man who will take over from Tony Blair when he steps down as Prime Minister.

    It is widely rumoured (though never officially confirmed) that when Tony Blair was a contender for the post of head of the Labour Party (this was when the Labour Party was in opposition) that Gordon Brown (the only other serious contender for the leadership) was persuaded by Tony Blair to drop out of the leadership race on the condition that at a future date Blair would resign and nominate Brown as his successor, and in the meantime Brown would have the second most powerful government post. This probably sounded like a good idea to Brown at the time, but he has been waiting ever since for Blair to step down.

    It now looks as if Blair may finally be on the point of resigning, or at least formally announcing when he plans to leave office. Today it was announced that various Labour politicians have now sent a formal letter to Blair demanding that he names a date for when he will step down from office. This might not sound much, but the next step in parliamentary terms is a formal demand for a leadership contest, which would be far more damaging for Blair's prestige than if he announces when he will step down.

    On top of all this, since the start of the Blair-Brown pact the two men have, it is rumoured, grown increasingly hostile to each other.
     
  16. Kevin Hewell

    Kevin Hewell Cinematographer

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    Thanks, andrew.
     
  17. Rob Gillespie

    Rob Gillespie Producer

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    Big words coming from the leader of a country that eats frogs, snails and horses.

    F**k 'em anyway, we won the Olympics.
     
  18. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    Who was the last Scottish Prime Minister before Gordon Brown? Sir Alec Douglas-Home?
     
  19. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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    Actually the Judicial branch is also rolled into Parliament. In the US the Judicial branch is a separate and co-equal part of the government. In the UK, a panel of members of the House of Lords sits as the "Supreme Court". I imagine that not too many laws passed by Parliament are found unconstitutional by a panel of members of the same Parliament.
     

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