[Course au 10 Downing Street]
A Prime Minister therefore chosen by 0.0006% of the population in phase 1 (about 360 Conservative MPs) then by about 0.25% in the final phase, namely the ~ 130,000 members of the Conservative Party who will vote. Psephologists call this an “a selectorate”, a select electorate. Welcome to Epistocracy.
That said, it’s far from the first time. The absence of a proper British constitution means that one sticks to “traditions, conventions and practices”. The power in place “plays it by ear” as they say, we improvise, we cook ad hoc, like the restaurateur who goes to the market every morning at Rungis to compose his menu which changes daily, according to arrivals and products from the moment.
Over the past 45 years, only 3 prime ministers have been “legitimately” elected, via a General Election that came directly after a resignation or end of term (Thatcher, Blair and Cameron).
All the others have either never been elected, not even internally (Gordon Blair, successor to the resigning Blair in 2007 but simply because he was deputy leader of the Labor Party), or elected but after an interim period (which could have continue for years if they had not decided to call a General Election to strengthen their parliamentary majority. a General Election because of a weak majority, a gamble that failed because it had to ally itself with the middle-aged neoreacs of the Northern Irish DUP, which had even refused to sit in Stormont, the IdN parliament, for years because of incompatibility of temper with Sinn Féin; Boris Johnson in July 2019, elected by only 92,153 people – vs 46,656 for the (more) moderate Jeremy Hunt. Same as May, he could have remained in power for years without being elected but given the acrimonious coalition situation with the e DUP, he called an election and won his bet, a large majority in the GE of December 2019).
Truss will therefore be elected by a tiny proportion of the population. This is a huge democratic anomaly, which people (the small minority who are interested in these things) are only beginning to question today, after having believed for a long time, with a certain smugness, in the solidity of the British model. The very idea of a constitution seemed to them far-fetched, almost an affront.
An anomaly which creates great instability and which benefits the power in place, and therefore the Conservatives (¾ of the time, “political alternation”, once considered a natural process and much vaunted in my British political history lessons at the English school in the 1980s is firmly in the past. It only really existed asymmetrically. In 2024, we will have 49 years in power for the Tories, out of 79 years, and 32 years out of the last 45 ).
A shame since the United Kingdom has always prided itself on having a “universally” system considered to be very stable, embodying unfailing solidity, “unlike the Continentals” (“Continentals in the UK, it’s a bit like “the Anglo-Saxons” in France, it does not really exist in the sense that each country has its own system and to speak of the Continentals or the Anglo-Saxons as if it were a monolithic entity, but it is an easy trope and therefore widely used, both negatively and positively).
The fact, for example, that we are at 4 PM in 7 years in the UK should alert public opinion (admittedly, largely amorphous) and the media much more. This unstable system favors resignations – eg Thatcher, Blair, Cameron, May, Johnson… – and aberrations.
Admittedly, we can also consider that the system works effectively because it also makes it possible to release a PM or force him to resign, in particular via the vote of no confidence (or its threat, eg Theresa May). This is the case in the list above for Thatcher, May or Johnson, as well as Blair to a lesser extent, the wear and tear of power after three terms for Thatcher and Blair having also counted.
Before them, the Conservative Anthony Eden resigned under pressure in 1957, following the Suez Canal crisis, after less than 2 years at the helm. Ditto for Harold Macmillan (Conservative Party) in 1963, weighed down by a famous politico-sexual scandal, the Profumo affair. link, which pushed him to resign before bringing down the Conservatives in the 1964 General Elections (a resounding scandal immortalized in the theater and on the screen on several occasions, including the film “Scandal” of 1989 and more recently in the series “The Trial of Christine Keeler” or via an episode of “The Crown”). And who of the – salutary – resignation of Neville Chamberlain on May 10, 1940? If the system had been rigid, Chamberlain would have stayed (well, so to speak because he died in November 1940) and Churchill probably could not have emerged then, certainly not in such a brilliant way anyway.
There is also the argument, admissible, of those who say: “Ah yes, but if it were impossible to force a PM to resign, Boris Johnson, for example, would still be in place and we would have had to wait for the 2024 elections for the release.”
Granted, but originally these resignations, forced, are above all the result of serious dysfunctions and anomalies.
Anomalies, but also aberrations. Brexit was decided in 2013 and without any constitutional or other barrier, simply because David Cameron was fed up with the whining and soft blackmail of some anti-EU MPs in his party. A small group (at the start), from the confidential but frighteningly influential ERG Jacob Rees-Mogg’s alt-rightist link, which will then grow terribly once the referendum is won, taking everything in its path, as much for electoral as for ideological reasons.
This group will draw pro-EU Conservatives, like the likely PM Liz Truss, into its crusade. In addition, many Conservative anti-Brexit MPs opted to take the official pro-Brexit line of the party – a rather anti-Brexit party before the referendum, so as not to lose their seats & their comfortable careers.
Many Tory politicians, purely through chillingly cynical opportunism, will turn anti-EU and embrace the bulk of the ERG theses. We call these people, like Truss or Johnson (also a Remainer at the start), “shape-shifters” link, creatures utterly devoid of conviction, intensely intellectually corrupted and able to change shape according to the mood of the day (Johnson and, above all, Truss, for example, were Remainers before the Brexit vote). The “shape-shifters” are Dutronc and his opportunists & jacket turners, power 100.