Should we directly elect the Prime Minister?

David Cameron’s stomping around the North today, yet again trying to persuade people that having elected mayors is a good idea.

I’ve set out before why I don’t like the current system of mayors (and their related ‘democratic’ position, Police and Crime Commissioners). In short, by concentrating power in one person and then severely restricting the ability of others to have any checks on that power, they’re effectively anti-democratic. There are good arguments for separating executive and legislative power at all levels, but democracy is about more than just voting. Most of these proposals just seem to assume that having a named individual responsible for some area of government magically makes it more accountable, without paying any attention to how that accountability takes place. As we saw with the farce over Shaun Wright, Police and Crime Commissioners are so unaccountable in practice, there was no body with the power to remove him from office.

When David Cameron and others do their pitches for elected mayors – despite the public rejecting them twice as often as they accept them – there’s a simple way to test how much they actually believe the arguments about improved accountability and democracy. Simply ask him this – should the position of Prime Minister be directly elected?

Sure, the position covers a while country rather than just a local government unit, but the principle is the same. The PM has an important role to lead and represent the country, but the people have no direct say in who gets to fill that role, so is it truly accountable and democratic? If our cities and towns will flourish more because they can directly elect their leaders, who can say how much the country would flourish if its leader was directly elected?

I’m not convinced elected mayors are some magical panacea for the problems of local government, and I strongly doubt that directly electing the Prime Minister would solve even one-tenth of the problems that it would cause. However, those that advocate directly electing more and more posts in the name of more democracy and accountability are heading towards this, even if they won’t admit it.

As I said a few weeks ago, I think there is a strong argument for looking at how we can better separate Government and Parliament, especially the question of whether ministers need to hold a seat in Parliament to do their jobs. I don’t think a directly elected Prime Minister is the answer, but then I’m not the one arguing that electing a post suddenly makes everything better.

One thought on “Should we directly elect the Prime Minister?”

  1. Um, it would be a start to have the PM formally elected by MPs.

    I have occasionally wondered about a system where there is a non-binding vote for PM concurrently with a general election whereby:
    – any MP can stand who has 10 nominees and a named deputy / second (the deputy being a stand-in if the candidate is not elected in the general election)
    – If 45 per cent of a constituency votes for that candidate (or, if there are 2 candidates, one candidate has the most votes), the vote of their MP is considered pre-cast in the further vote of MPs that follows.
    – The MPs gather and formally vote for PM shortly after the election. MPs have a free vote, but may consider the way their constituency votes if they wish. The duly elected person has first right to form a government.

    One advantage of such a system would be that it would allow Northern Irish constituents, in particular, somewhat of a say on who is PM, in a way they do not have now as the two major parties do not put up candidates in their territory.

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