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The Duke of Newcastle - the last Prime Minister to serve without a predecessor in Parliament.

The Duke of Newcastle – the last Prime Minister to serve without a predecessor in Parliament.

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.

(EDIT: Charles Dundas in the comments points out that the Earl of Bute was only a member of the Lords until 1780, but Grafton was an ex-PM in the Lords from 1770 until 1811)

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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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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Following some of the links from the Lib Dem Voice Golden Dozen, I found this post by Richard Morris suggesting names for potential new Lib Dem members of the House of Lords.

As I’ve stated many times before, I’d like to see the House of Lords replaced with an elected chamber – it’s the 21st century, I think we’re in a position where the British people should elect their own Parliament – but as reactionaries and opportunists in other parties happily conspire to prevent that from happening, we remain with a house of patronage. As a result, it looks like Nick Clegg will get to name fifteen people to the Lords (and for this post, I’m not going to open up the can of worms that’s the party’s Interim Peers Panel)

However, I noticed something in Richard’s post that of the 14 potential new peers he suggests, only three are women. This isn’t to single out Richard – I’m sure most Lib Dems when asked to come up with a similar list would come up with a similarly male list of the great, good, worthy and safely uncontroversial – but if there’s one thing the benches in the Lords aren’t short of at the moment, it’s men. Looking at the list of peers on the party website, there are 94 Lib Dem peers, of whom 66 are men and 28 are women (those figures do include Jenny Tonge). In terms of representing women, that’s slightly better than Have I Got News For You, but still pretty poor when compared to reality.

Assuming that Clegg doesn’t take the attitude that the best way to win the game of House of Lords appointments is to not play and appoint no new peers, why not take a bold approach and announce a list of fifteen women? It would still leave the party’s representation in the Lords well short of equality – but another list of fifteen would bring that close – but it would be a statement that if we do have to have an unelected chamber, the party is committed to making it representative. I could quite easily come up with a list of fifteen Lib Dem women who’d all make very good peers, so surely it’s not beyond the ability of Nick Clegg and his advisers to come up with one?

Doing that would be a way of making the statement that the Liberal Democrats are still committed to doing politics differently, and I expect it would serve as a way of making us look very different from the sort of list that Cameron and Miliband are likely to propose for their parties. And for anyone complaining about positive discrimination, it’s quite clear from the list of existing Lib Dem peers that there’s clearly been discrimination in favour of men over the years, and this is a chance to show that we’re not going to keep doing things the way they’ve always been done.

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Via Jennie, Michael Crick on how many new peers need to be appointed to make the House of Lords representative of the votes cast at the last election.

It’s an absurd number, but then it’s part of an absurd system where people get appointed to jobs for life on the whim of the Prime Minister of the day to serve in half of the legislature of a country that’s ostensibly democratic.

One thing from it stood out for me though, from David Cameron’s interview in the House Magazine:

I think it’s important to keep refreshing the talent in the House of Lords

I can think of a system that would allow the upper house of Parliament to actually be refreshed on a regular basis. It would ensure that anyone who’s been in their for a long period could be replaced, or if they wanted to stay on, they’d have to prove that they could still do the job to a large number of independent people. The number of members of the house could be fixed, and over a period of time, the whole place could be refreshed without having to resort to the anti-democratic absurdity of needing to appoint people.

But then if he really did believe in refreshing the Lords, he wouldn’t have allowed the reforms to create a democratic Lords to disappear. Yet again, Cameron’s actions show his real priorities, not his words.

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It’s Monday, and so it’s time for a new week of silly proposals from obscure Tory MPs. First there’s Michael Fabricant batting his eyes enticingly at UKIP, and then there’s this as well: (via)

For individuals aged under 25 who have not yet paid National Insurance contributions for a certain period, perhaps five years, unemployment benefit should be in the form of a repayable loan. An unemployed teenager would still receive the same amount of cash as now, for example, but they would be expected to repay the value once in work.

Like many proposals from the nuttier fringes of the Tory party, it reads like a parody – it’s not enough for the poor to be poor, let’s put them in debt to the state as well! – and the information at the bottom of the piece left me just as confused:

Chris Skidmore is MP for Kingswood, and a member of the Free Enterprise Group.

The name, the constituency, the ‘Free Enterprise Group’ – they all sound like things that could exist in Britain and the Tory Party, but do they actually exist? Is Skidmore just the Richard Geefe of the Tory right, perhaps Craig Brown sneaking something under the radar?

Apparently, no. Like James Delingpole, and so much else that passes for ‘commentary’ at the Telegraph, it’s entirely and depressingly genuine.

But it got me thinking – how hard would it be for someone to create an entirely fake MP and get people (including the media) to believe they were real? Kingswood, for instance, is one of those generic-sounding names that could be anywhere in the country (it’s actually to the north of Bristol), but if an article told you that it’s author was the MP for Queensbridge, for instance, would you question it? After all, there are 650 MPs, and who can remember all of them and their constituencies? Then if your fake MP was spotted, you could always invent a fake Lord to take their place – even political obsessives can’t name more than a handful of crossbench peers – though that is a trick that someone else has tried to pull recently. (But then again, surely Christopher Monckton is a parody that’s gone out of control?)

And finally, if you’ve had your fill of Parliament, you could always try setting up a fake Council. The 1974 Local Government Act gave us lot of names that can fool even the most experienced geographer – Vale Of White Horse, Three Rivers, Dacorum, Adur – as well as a lot of Mids, Wests, Easts, Souths and Norths, so it should be easy enough to come up with a name. Of course, there’s no chance of the media paying any attention to you, no matter what you do, unless you find some way to make them think you’re actually a London borough. Still, you’ll likely get lots of invites to attend and speak at Really Important Conferences.

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There are many obvious reasons to be glad that Donald Trump’s not British, not least the fact that it gives us another reasons to be dismissive of American politics and pretend ours are somehow better, but one specific one occurs to me.

Look at it this way: Donald Trump is a rich man who’s involved in politics and is known to give money to causes he supports. If he was British, he’d be free to give as much money as he likes to political parties – we can probably assume he’d be a Tory, at least initially – and wouldn’t be limited by any of those pesky donation limits that sometimes apply in American politics.

Now, one curious fact about British politics is that people who make large donations (or loans) to political parties are very often the same people who are appointed to the House of Lords. This, of course, is a total coincidence, and there’s no formal connection between being a major donor to a political party and a recipient of favours from that party. However, coincidences do occur, and any British Donald Trump could very possibly find himself becoming Baron Trump of Trumplandia. So, unlike in the US, where his attempts to achieve powerful political positions have failed because of the lack of interest from the electorate in giving him that power, here he’d likely find himself granted a powerful position for life.

So be glad he’s American, because while our House of Lords contains no end of strange people that we can’t remove from power, at least none of them are Donald Trump.

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