Parliamentary or Presidential?

With @TheresaMay2016‘s coronation we need an early General Election. The Tories now have no mandate. Britain deserves better than this.

The implication of this would seem to be that Tim Farron believes in a Presidential system. Which is strange given that the last time the Liberals were in Government they relied on a parliamentary majority to sustain them rather than a general election majority

Under presidential systems elections get boiled down to a binary choice – which probably means no look in for the Liberals.

Parliament is just as representative today as it was yesterday; problem (1) is
that it was not very representative yesterday and won’t be tomorrow. Who the Prime Minister is should make no difference. But as Chilcot showed it does – problem (2) is that some Prime Ministers behave as if they are presidents.

Parliament would be more representative of opinion across the country with a voting system that allows the voters a genuine choice. A system such as STV does not squeeze minority opinion out of either parties or legislatures. This argument has been made so often it does not need restating here.

If a parliament was representative any governing party (or coalition) which could command a majority in that parliament would be able to claim a high degree of legitimacy.

Who the individual ministers are does not change that legitimacy, and in that respect the Prime Minister is not much more than any other minister. He or she is prime minister because they lead the governing party or coalition. Consequently they should be elected (and ejected) by the governing party, not by the wider electorate. They should not get grandiose “presidential” ideas that they have “the people’s mandate”; they are merely primus intra pares, an MP elected like all the other MPs.

If a change in leader leads to a desire by the governing party to try to take a course different to that for which they gained a mandate (either via a general election or via a referendum), the argument might be made for a general election.

But that is to misunderstand the idea of a representative parliamentary democracy. We elect MPs as representatives, not as delegates. To argue that my MP is less representative because his leader has changed would be wrong; his mandate (albeit based on a flawed system) is just as valid. The same argument applies to all Conservative MPs and to imply that the mandate of non-Conservative MPs is less valid because the Conservative leadership has changed would seem ludicrous.

So when does a representative parliament lose its mandate – other than at the end of the statutory 5 year term?

If parliament reaches deadlock and can no longer give support to a government, there are means for a two-thirds majority of parliament to vote for an early election. If they cannot achieve that majority they are expected as a parliament to get on with the job they were given at the previous general election. In general factors internal to parliament should not trigger an election.

So if a change of leadership does not lead to an automatic general election, what of external factors such as the EU Referendum result? By its very nature the referendum result gives parliament a new overlying mandate – to leave the EU, so no further mandate is required.

There is an issue where the parliament is known to be against this new mandate, but a general election (which is fought on multiple issues) will not necessarily solve that problem. Would we expect all “Remain” supporting MPs to be deselected – thereby removing the 48% of all representation? Clearly not.

The mandate of individual MPs is not undermined just because a referendum on one issue goes against them. That is why referenda have to be advisory – although if the House of Commons was not to implement a referendum decision carried by a substantial majority there would be a backlash at the next election. That is when we, the voters, get to hold our representatives to account.

Whether we like it or not the Conservatives were elected (by an admittedly flawed system that is still in place) on a manifesto which included holding a referendum on EU membership. They are still implementing that same manifesto.

For opposition parties to call for a general election just because the leader of the governing party has changed is opportunistic and goes against the principles of parliamentary democracy. It is, however, open to them to see if the new leader can command a parliamentary majority in the House of Commons by means of a no confidence motion.

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