Friday, 19 February 2010

The rulebook tendency

Martin Kettle has an interesting Guardian column musing on hung parliament possibilities.

He notes the very strong likelihood that there would then be a minority government rather than a coalition of any combination.

And I think he is right too that it would be enormously difficult for a governing party, in a hung parliament situation, to change its leader and the PM. Above anything else, there could well be a major legitimacy problem with the emergence of a new Prime Minister just days after a General Election, when they were not a leader in that election.

So, in practice, I would agree with him that any such scenario is very likely a non-runner. But the barrier is not the one which Kettle gives, of the Labour party rulebook.

He writes that:

Today parties are encumbered with more rules. If Brown goes, Harman automatically becomes Labour leader until a party leadership election is held.

But, with the party still in government (as would clearly, technically, be the case until another PM kissed hands or another government was formed), the Labour leadership rules do not automatically elevate the deputy leader, but rather give the decision about an acting leader to the Cabinet, in consultation with the NEC.

A deputy leader might very often be the leading choice in terms of the politics, but there is nothing automatic about this.

When the party is in government and the party leader is prime minister and the party leader, for whatever reason, becomes permanently unavailable, the cabinet shall, in consultation with the NEC, appoint one of its members to serve as party leader until a ballot under these rules can be carried out.

Read the rules here.


Nick Anstead said...

It is an interesting article, and the primary documents from 1974 are well worth a read.

There is another point that needs to be made though. I'm not sure what the Labour Party constitution says about it, but there is certainly no legal requirement for the Prime Minister to be party leader. The only requirement is that they are able to command a majority in the House of Commons.

Nor is it completely historically unprecidented. Churchill was PM for a 4 months or so in 1940 without being leader of the Conservatives. The hypothetical (and it is a very, very extreme one, not a prediction) would involve Harriet Harman or someone else leading Labour, while A.N.Other politician, with whom the Liberal Democrats felt they could do business, acting as the head of a coalition government.

Sunder Katwala said...


Thanks. Interesting point