As the constitutional crisis mounts, there is more reason than ever to think the House of Commons itself should choose the next PMby Andrew Adonis / September 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
Catastrophically poor national leadership lies behind British populism and Brexit. Since Tony Blair, every prime minister has been worse than the last, and Boris Johnson is worst of the lot. Add in the five parallel leaders of the opposition—William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard, Ed Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn—and you get the worst national leadership team in modern British history.
What went wrong? The fateful decision was taken by both Labour and the Tories when they chose to move from parliamentary democracy to activist democracy in choosing their leaders. This shift turned out to be a fundamental constitutional change, and fundamentally bad. The critical turning points were 2001 for the Tories and 2010 for Labour, when for the first-time party activists imposed leaders who were not the choice of parliamentarians. By this convoluted and uncharted process of radical change, party leaders and prime ministers are now chosen by a tiny, unrepresentative minority of the electorate.
If MPs alone had chosen Conservative leaders since John Major, Duncan Smith, Howard and May would be political footnotes, while Johnson would be a joke on Have I Got News For You. It was a fundamental mistake of British democratic practice to depart from the principle of parliamentary supremacy.
So what is to be done? State regulation of political parties in respect of their leadership selection processes is one possible answer. Far simpler, and virtually impossible to contest on the principle of parliamentary democracy, is that the House of Commons itself should choose the prime minister.
A constitutional change, by act of parliament, requiring the House of Commons to elect the prime minister after a general election would, in effect, restore parliamentary supremacy to the choice of the head of government. It would not formally interfere with internal party selection, since it would be possible to have a leader chosen by activists who was then disowned by the party’s MPs on the formation of a government after an election victory. But once this constitutional change was in place, a leader lacking the support of MPs would be unlikely, and obviously undesirable, for parties seeking to present this person to the electorate as a potential prime minister.
This precise system is at the core of the Federal Republic of Germany’s constitution (“Basic Law”) in its provisions for the selection of the chancellor, dating…