Saturday, September 13, 2008

Brown Out?

Further to this and other posts I've written about the difficulties facing British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, he is now encountering open calls from members of Parliament (MPs) within his Labor Party, for him to be replaced as leader of that party, and thereby as prime minister.

He decided against the Cabinet reshuffle about which I speculated in that earlier post. However, he did fire ("sack", as the British would say) Siobhain McDonagh from her job as a party whip, after she joined those advocating a new election for party leader.

Brown's opponents have not coalesced around a single candidate as a possible successor. Foreign Secretary David Miliband has been mentioned most frequently. He is said to have started an anti-Brown campaign that is more subtle than that of the MPs who are openly campaigning for a change.

This situation is similar in many ways to the manner in which the Conservative Party dislodged Margaret Thatcher as their leader, in 1990. She was never openly voted out, but when it became evident that she had lost the support of many of her party's MPs, including Cabinet ministers, she had no choice but to resign.

One implication of a successful challenge to Brown would be pressure on his successor to call an immediate general election. There is no legal requirement to hold that election before 2010. However, questions of legitimacy would be raised, if the governing party were to have changed prime ministers twice, without involving the electorate.

In theory, the people do not elect a prime minister at a general election. They only elect MPs. But British elections are increasingly considered to be presidential elections, in all but name. So, for example, at the 2005 general election, the ballots displayed only the names of candidates for MP in each constituency, but the real decision was whether the voters wanted Tony Blair to continue as prime minister, or to switch to the then-leader of the Conservative Party, Michael Howard.

If Miliband, or any other alternative to Brown, were to be made prime minister, the feeling is that that choice should be confirmed in a general election.

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