» Nick ¦ What You Can Get Away With

A thought occurred to me this morning that with Gordon Brown stepping down as an MP at the next election, if David Cameron is re-elected, there’ll be no former Prime Minister in Parliament. There’ll be living former Prime Ministers – John Major, Tony Blair and Brown – but as the first two haven’t taken seats in the Lords, they’re not in Parliament. Assuming Brown chooses to follow their example (possibly confirming a new precedent), none of them will be in Parliament.

That got me wondering about if it had ever happened before, and if so, when was the most recent case of it? Going back to the start, this is what I found:

Following the convention, we’ll assume Walpole was the first Prime Minister, and thus there was no former one in Parliament during his time in office. Having been created Earl of Orford, he remained in Parliament until his death in 1745, through the whole of the Earl of Wilimgton’s time as PM and the first two years of Henry Pelham’s.

Wilmington and Pelham both died in office, thus there were no living former PMs during the Duke of Newcastle’s first period in office. He was then replaced by the Duke of Devonshire before returning to office when Devonshire resigned. Newcastle was in power till 1762, and Devonshire didn’t die until 1764, then Newcastle lived on until 1768, during which time the Earl of Bute, George Grenville, the Marquess of Rockingham and Pitt the Elder all served as Prime Minister.

Of those four, Bute lived the longest and held a peerage, thus remaining a member of Parliament in the Lords until his death in 1792. There were a number of Prime Ministers during that time, the longest lived being the Duke of Grafton, who survived until 1811. Following him, Henry Addington (who joined the Lords as Viscount Sidmouth after being Prime Minister) lived until 1844.

Viscount Goderich was the longest-surviving PM of Addington’s time, living till 1859 (and outliving four of his successors), with Lord John Russell (later the first Earl Russell) the longest-lived of Goderich’s time. Russell lived to see Disraeli and Gladstone trade the premiership back and forth, though Gladstone was the longest-lived. However, he did not enter the Lords, and served as an MP until 1895. When Gladstone left Parliament, however, his successor the Earl of Rosebery also lost the Premiership to the Marquess of Salisbury, though Rosebery lived on until 1929.

At Rosebery’s death, David Lloyd George was still in Parliament and would serve as an MP until 1945, while Stanley Baldwin (both a former and future PM at the time of Rosebery’s death) would be in the Lords as Earl Baldwin until 1947. Attlee and Churchill were then both former Prime Ministers and leaders of the Opposition while the other was in office. Attlee would remain in Parliament as Earl Attlee until his death in 1967, and then there would always be at least one former Prime Minister in the House of Lords until Thatcher’s death in 2013.

On her death, Gordon Brown became the only former Prime Minister left in Parliament, and so, to answer my original question, if Cameron remains as Prime Minister and none of the three living former PMs enter the Lords, this will be our first time without a former Prime Minister in Parliament since the Duke of Newcastle’s first term in 1754-56.

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Political Illiteracy – Chris Dillow wonders about the connections between economic crisis and political crisis.
Custard Creams Are Cheaper Than Cous Cous, But You Can’t Expect A Fucking Baroness To Know That – Eating healthy isn’t as cheap as some think, and just being poor is expensive.
The legend of the free labour market – the idea that there was a period when governments didn’t interfere in labour markets is a myth, according to Flip Chart Fairy Tales.
The next affluent society – “The problem of capitalism is no longer making enough stuff but, rather, finding consumers affluent enough to buy it.”
Another open letter to Russell Brand (this one’s shorter and not shit) – Stavvers on the real problems with Russell Brand, which aren’t anything to do wit how hot or cold someone’s lunch might be.

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If nothing else, he’s better at using multiple clauses in a sentence than his brother, but it is a declaration surrounded by a whole forest of ambiguity. He’s not exploring running for President but actively exploring the possibility of running for President, an act of unintentional political philosophy that could lead to disaster if he decides he first needs to fully comprehend the meaning of his decision to actively explore this possibility before even beginning to properly explore where it all might lead to.

Of course, it’s in the nature of US Presidential elections that candidates need to go through all the rigmarole of not actively running so they don’t have to answer any actual questions but can still begin to raise the vast funds needed to see if it’s possible to raise the immense funds required to mount a serious bid for the Presidency. There will likely have been a pre-public exploratory phase before all this, just to make sure things won’t completely fizzle out, which is why there’s a big jump from thinking about running for President, and exploring it. One you do privately, the other you do publicly and are pretty much committing yourself to run barring utter disaster – it’s the political equivalent of the one finger that’s just touching the chess piece after the move, hoping you haven’t missed something really obvious now it’s in place.

Once the candidate has formed the exploratory committee, they’re pretty much running for President, even if they’re still being coy about it. In fact, I can only think of one US politician who explored running for President and then decided not to run – the late Paul Wellstone in 1999 – though there are many who explored, ran and then realised they should have explored more.

Jeb Bush becoming President in 2016 would prove my prediction from 2012 correct, even if I wouldn’t want it to be. I do hope his explorations will include an extended discussion of whether history repeats itself, and if so, just how farcical a process the election would need to be to have him elected by the House of Representatives like John Quincy Adams and who the Andrew Jackson of the twenty-first century would be.

(Edit: And just after I posted this, I saw this article pondering on the possibility of the both US parties splitting in two, which is surely a sign of us being in 1824 all over again)

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While looking around for some background information on the previous post, I found this blog post by Douglas Carswell from 2012 talking about the 1919 Re-Election of Ministers Act, which mostly ended the practice of ministerial by-elections. (They were completely ended by an amendment to it in 1926)

He was using it to argue for open primaries and recalls, but there’s one line in there that shows where his thinking was going a couple of years before he switched to UKIP:

If an MP was invited to become a minister, they were seen to be changing sides – and had to seek a fresh mandate from the people to be their representative.

So, his choosing to fight a by-election when he changed sides from Tory to UKIP shouldn’t have been a surprise, though the interesting question is going to be if he’s now established a new precedent and Parliamentary tradition. Mark Reckless followed the same course, but will any other MPs, especially the next time someone defects to a party other than UKIP?

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Reading this article about how MPs who want to climb the greasy ladder to the Ministerial Jaguar have to toe the line continually in Parliament reminded me of one idea I’d like to see tried to try and free Members of Parliament.

We currently have a situation where to be a Minister within the UK Government, you have to be a Member of Parliament – either Commons or Lords. Unlike other countries – the US is probably the best and most well-known example – we don’t formally separate the executive and legislative parts of the government and so David Cameron serves both as Prime Minister and Member of Parliament for Witney. (And if the Tories got a majority but he lost his seat, he wouldn’t be able to continue as PM)

There are many advantages to this system, and for once, it’s not one that Britain is alone in using (Angela Merkel, for instance, represents the constituency of Vorpommern-Rügen – Vorpommern-Greifswald I in the Bundestag). Leaders and ministers need to have that local mandate to be able to serve, and it ensures that ministers are accountable to Parliament. On the down side, however, there are the issues mentioned in the article of MPs having to do as they’re told if they want to get into Ministerial office, and constituencies represented by a senior Minister not getting the same sort of representation in Parliament as those represented by backbenchers.

Now, one way to change this would be to follow the American example and completely separate the two, but that would be a pretty radical change to the system and I’m not completely sure the country is ready for the idea of a directly-elected Prime Minister and executive. However, the French system does suggest a way in which the two can be separated a bit more, and fits in with British tradition too.

Until the First World War, MPs who took a post as a minister had to resign and be re-elected in a by-election if they became a Minister because their circumstances had changed. The French still have a system whereby if a member of the National Assembly is appointed to the Government (and some other constitutional posts) they cease to be a member of the Assembly. However, they circumvent the need for a by-election by using the principle of a substitute. By this process, a person who may become a minister names a substitute at the time of their election – as in Britain, having the individual electoral mandate is seen as important – and if they do take up a role in the government, their place in it is taken by the substitute. That way ministers still need to be elected, but in day-to-day business, there’s a greater separation between Parliament and the Executive.

It’s not the be-all and end-all of constitutional reform, and would need some more thinking through about the wider ramifications, but it’s an idea that might bring some improvements and one I’d be interested to see tried.

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Here’s why it matters where we draw city limits – A quick lesson in house building and spatial planning incentives from Jonn Elledge.
Dear members who read Liberal Democrat Voice, it seems that we aren’t as representative as you thought… – Interesting thoughts on the recent Lib Dem presidential election from Mark Valladares.
Shimer College: the worst school in America? – It’s not, according to Jon Ronson, but it’s an interesting look at a different way of doing higher education.
Convincing versus mobilising – Alex Harrowell with a more in-depth and interesting way of looking at political opinion poll reports.
Democracy at a TTIP’ing point – Professor Colin Crouch argues that the TTIP agreement between the US and the EU is an example of post-democracy in action, but reaction to it could provide an opportunity to reassert democracy.

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Lib-Dems-voting-at-conferenceMark Pack asks Liberal Democrats what needs to be done to make One Member One Vote work. I left a brief comment there, but decided I needed to expand on that thought a little more.

I’m on the record as being sceptical about OMOV, and neither the debate at conference, nor the discussions that have been had about it since have shifted me from that scepticism. However, I have continued to think about the subject and I’m coming to the position that OMOV as constituted is attempting to solve the wrong problem.

The problem we’re being presented is that the methods of accessing the party’s current power structures prevent many members from influencing those power structures. Thus, OMOV is proposed as a way to change the way the power structures are accessed: no longer will elections to federal committees and votes at conference be limited to conference representatives, now every member will have those opportunities. It seems reasonable until you notice there’s one big assumption in there: that the existing power structures are fine, and it’s just the inputs to them that need tweaking.

My problem is that I’m not convinced that is the case. One important thing to consider here is that the structures of the party have changed very little since it was founded in 1988. This actually makes the party’s structures effectively the oldest of the main parties – Labour’s structures were changed after 1994 and the Tories after 1997 – and any changes that have taken place since then have effectively been changes of procedure, not changes of any of the fundamental structures. (It’s endless tweaking and not fundamental reform that leads to organisational charts like this where things keep getting added on to what’s already there instead of replacing them)

My problem with OMOV proposals – even as Conference amended them – is that they’re yet another set of tweaks to the existing system, and not an examination of whether that system is capable of doing the job we want it to do, regardless of what inputs its getting. It’s a bit like trying to fix a car by bolting new parts onto it and changing the fuel while insisting that the engine is fine and needs nothing more than an occasional tune up.

What I think we need to do – though not till after the election, obviously – isn’t another set of tweaks that we’ll then look at in another couple of years to see if they need more tweaks, but to start again with a blank sheet of paper and work out just how a political party for the twenty-first century should work. Is it best run by a set of committees and a conference that rely on everyone being in the same place at the same time before decisions can be made? I’m much better at asking questions than designing new structures, but surely there are other ways of doing things with a much more distributed and networked power structure. The current party structure was set up at a time when hardly anyone involved had a computer at home, let alone mobiles, email, the web or social media, before 24 hour news, devolution and countless other things were part of the political landscape.

I think we do need to create a party where the members have a lot more say in how it runs and what it campaigns for, but I’m still not convinced that adding OMOV to the current system is the way to achieve that. When the election is done, we’re going to need to have a proper debate about the future of the party, and I think that debate doesn’t just need to be about where we’re going but how the party is organised and run. Rushing to introduce OMOV before the election is saying that the existing structures are mostly fine and taking that debate off the table when we most need to have it.

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