Gordon Brown began his “resignation” statement by observing that “we have a parliamentary system, not a presidential system.”
Indeed. And anybody who thought the British and American systems were broadly similar — two parties each with a principal candidate to serve as the country’s leader — should have been disabused of that by the day’s events.
Britain does not elect prime ministers. (Only the voters of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath elect Gordon Brown.) But it generally elects parties under known leaders offering themselves, in effect, as prime minister.
Before last week’s vote, the United Kingdom had a head of government who had never submitted himself to the electorate in that capacity, nor had he even been elected as leader by his party. Rather, Gordon Brown became prime minister because of a long-ago private deal with Tony Blair that Brown chose to invoke when Blair got into his post-Iraq difficulties. In a democratic age, this is not a satisfactory arrangement. So the election was, aside from anything else, an exercise in retrospective legitimization.
Instead, post-election, the “unelected” prime minister is now insisting he’ll stay in office until he can make way for another “unelected” prime minister from his own party — the party which lost the election — once it has successfully concluded negotiations with the party that came third in the election.
Even if this arrangement — a brand new leader unknown to the electorate at the time of last week’s vote presiding over a coalition of the second- and third-placed parties — were to come to fruition, it would not command a majority in the House of Commons. To stay in power and function in any way, it would be dependent on the support (explicit or less so) of various regional entities — the fourth-placed party (Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists), the fifth (the Scottish Nationalists), and the seventh and eighth (Plaid Cymru from Wales and the SDLP from Ulster). Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are already disproportionately represented at Westminster and have already been bought off to the extent that government now accounts for between 73 and 78 percent of their various economies, which is about all one can expect to achieve short of full-scale Sovietization. Nonetheless, a Labour–Liberal Democrat alliance would shower the Celtic fringe with whatever’s necessary and stick English taxpayers with the tab.
Meanwhile, the party that won the most seats throughout the UK, and a clear majority in England, will be entirely excluded. And possibly in perpetuity — since the deal the LibDems are angling for from Labour is one that would change Britain’s electoral system to something “fairer” (i.e., more beneficial to them). The various Scots, Ulster, and Welsh parties may yet have some “fairness” in the game, too.
So much for those Yank-style televised leaders’ debates only a couple weeks back. Instead, Britain will end up with a leader who didn’t participate in the leaders’ debates, presiding over a coalition that wasn’t on the ballot, implementing a platform no party ran on, yet committed to transformative electoral reform for which there is no mandate.
If all the above doesn’t sound terribly democratic, well, at least, Mr. and Mrs. Bloggs of Little Stitch-Up-On-Thames can still elect their Member of Parliament and know who they’re going to get. As it happens, that’s what the LibDems want to change — to some Continental-style “proportional” system. The way things are going, giving every voter a blindfold and a pin would make as much sense.