26/06/2019

A New Party Leader and a New Prime Minister

As I write, the Conservative Party is beginning a leadership contest to decide who will replace Theresa May as its leader.

The winner will also become Prime Minister and many may question whether this is acceptable – whether a new PM should be appointed without a General Election.

The UK is a parliamentary democracy, meaning that the Government is formed from, and is accountable to, Parliament.

And the constitutional rule is that the Queen will appoint as PM the person who can command the majority of support in the House of Commons (usually, but not necessarily, the leader of the party with the most seats in the Commons).

This is why there may be a new PM without a General Election – because the allegiance of members of the House of Commons, of MPs, may change, particularly when the leader of the governing party changes between elections.

This has happened three times in the last 30 years: in 1990 when John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher as PM; in 2007 when Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair; and in 2016 when David Cameron was replaced by Theresa May.

Of course, while all this may be constitutionally legitimate, it is not necessarily politically legitimate.

One may question whether it is appropriate for a hundred thousand people or so, the Conservative Party membership, to choose the next PM without there being a general vote among the public at large.

We should, therefore, expect Mrs May’s successor to face calls for their role to be confirmed, or otherwise, by a General Election.

 

Dr John McGarry (Associate Lecturer)

Law

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