Thursday, August 07, 2008


Why Brown's Possible Sucessor Doesn't Need to Call a Quick Election

The notion that any successor to Gordon would have to call an election pretty damn soon was ridiculed recently by Peter Riddell of The Times. This notion of an instant obligation of any winner of a contest for a new Labour leader has entered the mainstream of opinion via David Cameron and his associates and some, on the left like my old blogger friend, Bob Piper, have accepted it in its entirety. Riddell will have none of this nonsense:

The sole requirement is that a prime minister can command a majority in the House of Commons. Who that leader is, or whether he or she changes, is irrelevant in constitutional terms. That is why the often-heard argument that Gordon Brown’s premiership is illegitimate because he was unelected is baloney. We live in a parliamentary, not a presidential, system. Mr Brown was elected an MP, just as Tony Blair, or any future Labour leader was, in May 2005 by voters in their constituencies. No one was asked who should be prime minister.

He is quite right of course and there is nothing in the rules of what passes for our constitution that David Miliband, let us say, should not repalce Brown and serve until the very last day in 2010 before he has to call an election, five years after the last one, 5th May, 2005. But constitutional rules do not recognise political realities. One replacement without public endorsement might be accepted by voters without cavill but two is unknown territory. Riddell must know that any call for a quick election would receive a degree of public support.

How much support is the key question. If two million voters marched through Whitehall demanding an election, I suspect the constitution might well be made a purely academic consideration. But would there be such an emphatic reaction? Buggered if I know, but I would guess not.

I can assure you Bill, despite your provocative remarks, I have not accepted Cameron's view in its entirety, any more than I suspect he has accepted mine.

I agree entirely that constitutionally there is no obligation on a new leader to hold an election, and in fact I said so on many occasions when people were saying Gordon Brown should go to the country.

What I do think is that any leader who effectively overthrew Brown because they wanted to pursue a different direction would have a moral imperative to seek a mandate for that. If they didn't I am sure the electorate wouldn't march through Whitehall demanding an election, but I am equally certain that at the earliest opportunity they would punish a Labour leader who had not sought a mandate.

The case for Brown was very different in my opinion. He had been Blair's chancellor and right hand man for 11 years, and the only changes he proposed were, sadly, cosmetic.
Wasn't trying to be provocative Bob! Merely citing your views on the need for a new PM to seek endorsement. I agree the 'march' scenario is unlikely andf that there would be much moral pressure which niof not reflected would work yo Labour's disadvantage when an election finally arrived.
I think the truth is somewhere in between. Brown's successor would not be required to hold an immediate election, but politically, I think they would need to make clear that they would be seeking a new mandate from the country in the reasonably not-too-distant future. Realistically, this means May 2009 if Gordon is overthrown this autumn, or October/November 2009 if he is overthrown in the spring. After that, I guess, the question becomes academic.
I agree. Even May next year would be pushing it if a new PM-installed in the autumn- wanted to establish himself before an election.
As so often, Paul comes up with the likely scenario. With the obvious exception that Brown is going nowhere, and no-one can make him.
Skipper - I understand your point of view and I see its force, but surely one problem is that in this day and age people vote for a leader as much as for a party - and far more than for a local candidate? In which case, surely there is a strong argument that a new leader should seek a new mandate - and especially a new new leader?

Constitutionally, remember, there is no law saying that the PM HAS to have a majority in the House of Commons - in fact, we have frequently had governments opposed by large and hostile majorities. The PM is the person nominated by the Sovereign to oversee the day-to-day affairs of the government. Would you then argue that John Major should have refused to resign had the Queen not dismissed him in 1997? The same logic applies.

I agree with Bob Piper - there won't be marching crowds, but there would be another dip in the polls, and you can hardly afford that right now.
HBW(love the blog name)
Not sure there is much in the argumehnt that the Queen plays any role at all. But I agree Labour doesn't need to get any more unpopular than it already is.
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