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Old 04-05-2005, 12:24 PM   #1 (Print)
cheerdude
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SOAK: British Elections

I realize that Politics is a forbidden topic... but I am hoping that this question is ok to ask and doesn't get locked.

I saw that Tony Blair has called for elections on May 5th. With the US, we have a fixed date that our elections take place. However, it seems that election day in the UK can be whatever day the current administration wants it to be.

What rules govern when an elections can/must be called? Is the PM the only person with that authority? How are the logistics handled by the country? If the other party wins... do they take power immediately?

Again... I am not trying to make this a "Vote Labor" or "Vote Conservative"... or even "Vote Silly Twit" type of thread. Just a bloody Yank wanting to know how it is done across the pond.

Thanks,

Jeff
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Old 04-05-2005, 12:39 PM   #2 (Print)
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The party in power can pick the date for the election up to the maximum time in power of five years.

Thus the current party could have waited nearly another year.

The party in power normally picks the time when they think things are in their favor and thus hope to get re-elected.

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Old 04-05-2005, 01:51 PM   #3 (Print)
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Interestingly, by convention, polling day is always a Thursday.
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Old 04-05-2005, 02:42 PM   #4 (Print)
GarySargent
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Don't know the exact rules but there was something about Tony Blair getting permission from the Queen - so I presume she has the final say on the date (though she would never go against the PM I assume).

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Old 04-05-2005, 03:21 PM   #5 (Print)
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This timetable of the 2001 election might be of interest.

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Old 04-06-2005, 02:30 AM   #6 (Print)
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The Queen (nominally) gives "permission" for the election date - in practice she never goes against the Prime Minister's request.

Similarly, after the election the "winning" party goes to see the Queen who (notionally) says who forms the government. She could refuse and say the Monster Raving Loony Party are to form the government, even if they don't have a single MP, but she doesn't by tradition, as it would create a constitutional crisis.

It's the same as no act of parliament is enacted into law until the monarch has signed them, and she has power of veto. She could refuse to sign any piece of legislation if she wanted, but she doesn't as she's effectively a glove puppet. The only time I'm aware of a monarch refusing legislation in recent times (before it was put before parliament) was the refusal to criminalise lesbianism in the 1800s as Queen Victoria is said to have not believed that women would do such things, but it was done before the act was even put to parliament (ie probably at the time of the Queens Speech).

It's for the same reason when each session of parliament opens she gives the speech saying what "her" government will do - even though the party in power writes the speech and she has no real say.

Remember, the UK isn't a democracy but a constitional monarchy (without a written constituion). It's the reason we have a Prime Minister, rather than a president. He is the monarch's "first minister" - from the historic concept of the monarch having a council of advisors that do the dirty stuff for them and give advice based on what's happening in the real world as they saw it. The Prime Minister is meant to be the "Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury, and Minister for the Civil Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland", but not all Prime Ministers were First Lord of the Treasury though it's a long time since they weren't.

Even though he is the first minister, he is only second in the monarch's advisors, the first being the Primate of England (Archibishop of York). The Primate of All England does not feature in the list of advisors but does in the Order of Precedence, where he has more power of veto. The Lord High Chancellor has the power of veto over the Prime Minister, putting the judiciary over the government. The Order of Precedence could in theory allow the Church to overturn the Law of England & Wales (but not Scotland or Northern Ireland), but as the Monarch has the ultimate power it never happens as she accepts the the Governments right to writing the law of the land which in reality puts them higher than the Primates and Lord High Chancellor even though they are not...

Most titles from mediŠval times still exist and are still used, and they are to do the monarchs bidding, but they don't. They tell her what they are doing and she has to accept it.

Funny old country and system, isn't it?

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Old 04-06-2005, 02:50 AM   #7 (Print)
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Yes - very interesting!

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Old 04-06-2005, 04:19 AM   #8 (Print)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kitschcamp
Even though he is the first minister, he is only second in the monarch's advisors, the first being the Primate of England (Archibishop of York). The Primate of All England does not feature in the list of advisors but does in the Order of Precedence, where he has more power of veto. The Lord High Chancellor has the power of veto over the Prime Minister, putting the judiciary over the government. The Order of Precedence could in theory allow the Church to overturn the Law of England & Wales (but not Scotland or Northern Ireland), but as the Monarch has the ultimate power it never happens as she accepts the the Governments right to writing the law of the land which in reality puts them higher than the Primates and Lord High Chancellor even though they are not...
So the Queen, the Archbishop of York, and the Lord High Chancellor must accept ultimate responsibility for allowing Tony Blair to go to war with Iraq.

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Old 04-06-2005, 05:55 AM   #9 (Print)
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Very interesting indeed.... so let me throw another question out there.

There is a 5-year max length between elections. Let's say that the PM is "forgetful" and/or power hungry... or simply misjudges and you get to a point when elections have to be called to meet the 5-year rule (or maybe you have passed that date without elections being called).

What happens then? Since the Prime Minister is basically under the Monarchy, can the Queen call for elections? I realize that in this day and age, such a thing is virtually impossible... since the opposition party, press, internet bloggers would raise such a fuss. However, there probably is some mechanism in place in case of such an event.

Thanks again,

Jeff
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Old 04-06-2005, 06:39 AM   #10 (Print)
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One thing observers from the US have to admire is the shortness of the process. Call an election, campaign, and vote all in about a month. I know they have been posturing for the last month or so, but compared to the tedium we have to endure over here, where presidential hopefuls are already positioning themselves for 2008, you guys are bloody lucky.
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Old 04-06-2005, 07:04 AM   #11 (Print)
manolan
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cheerdude
Very interesting indeed.... so let me throw another question out there.

There is a 5-year max length between elections. Let's say that the PM is "forgetful" and/or power hungry... or simply misjudges and you get to a point when elections have to be called to meet the 5-year rule (or maybe you have passed that date without elections being called).

What happens then? Since the Prime Minister is basically under the Monarchy, can the Queen call for elections? I realize that in this day and age, such a thing is virtually impossible... since the opposition party, press, internet bloggers would raise such a fuss. However, there probably is some mechanism in place in case of such an event.

Thanks again,

Jeff



The relevant law is the Septenniel Act of 1715 as amended by Section 2 of the Parliament Act 1911. These state that the Parliament will expire after 5 years (and give details of the calculation method). At this point, Parliament is no longer legally constituted and any acts passed would be void. Of course, Parliament could go on sitting, but that would be a Coup D'Etat. There is no particular reason why a PM must call an election. They can, if they wish, allow Parliament to expire.

In either case, there is a 17 day timetable to the General Election which starts from the day the monarch orders writs to be published. If the Parliament expired, this would be expected to happen the day after. Since the timetable for General Elections is started by the monarch, you can quite rightly say that the Queen "calls" the election!

The monarch is obliged to issue writs within 3 years of the dissolution of the previous Parliament. However, it is not practical to allow a year to elapse because certain authorities have to be formally conferred each year by Parliament.

There is quite a good research paper here --> http://www.parliament.uk/commons/li...01/rp01-014.pdf and this is another useful source --> http://www.parliament.uk/faq/faq.cfm#elec
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Old 04-06-2005, 07:28 AM   #12 (Print)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Soze
Call an election, campaign, and vote all in about a month.


And, in answer to one of cheerdude's other questions, the change of power happens immediately after the Queen asks someone to form a government the day after the election, and they agree. So normally if there's a change of power, on the day after the election, we'll see the old PM move out of the official residence and the new PM move in. There's no wait for an inauguration.

There's constant speculation about what the Queen does in the event of a hung parliament (i.e. no one party having an overall majority). Say Labour and Conservative had roughly the same number of seats, with an assortment of LibDem, nationalist and N.Ireland MPs holding 'the balance of power'. In that situation the Queen would have to select the leader of either Labour or the Conservatives to have 'first go' at trying to form a government - to try and bring the minority parties onside to form a majority. If they couldn't reach agreement, then she'd turn to the other choice.

This most recently happened in February 1974 when Labour had the largest number of seats but did not have the largest number of votes, and did not have an overall majority. The Conservatives (who had been in power leading up to the election) failed to agree with the Liberals and so Labour were asked to form a government, which they did. The minority government lasted a few months until October, when Harold Wilson decided that he had a good chance of winning an overall majority, so he called another General Election, which he won with an overall majority, giving him sufficient support in Parliament to run the country without relying on other party support.
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Old 04-06-2005, 11:25 AM   #13 (Print)
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Is the winner determined by popular vote, or by representatives of a given region or district? Here in the U.S., the members of the Electoral College vote based on the polling results of their respective districts. In most states, members of the Electoral College are not legally required to vote based on the will of the people, but they do 99.9% of the time.

Unfortunately, most states in the US use a winner-take-all system. Only two states split their votes based on the popular vote.

-Mike
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Old 04-06-2005, 12:46 PM   #14 (Print)
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The populace is divided into 659 "constituencies". Each constituency returns its member of parliament (MP) as the result of a popular vote - the candidate with the most votes wins.

Most candidates are members of a party. Almost all returned MPs are members of a party. The party with the most members elected is the one invited to form the government.

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Old 04-06-2005, 01:19 PM   #15 (Print)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cheerdude
Let's say that the PM is "forgetful" and/or power hungry... or simply misjudges and you get to a point when elections have to be called to meet the 5-year rule (or maybe you have passed that date without elections being called).

What happens then? Since the Prime Minister is basically under the Monarchy, can the Queen call for elections?


The Queen wouldn't have to get her hands dirty with such things - that's why the order of precedence is there. As the judiciary is above the Prime Minister, they'd rule that he's illegally in office and force the matter, in much the same way as they have done with various pieces of legislation that have been ruled as illegal and force the commons to act.

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Old 04-06-2005, 01:35 PM   #16 (Print)
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Thanks for the answers... which, of course, lead to more questions. <g>

Are the constituency lines re-drawn after a period of time? In other words, how are the boundaries of the constituencies determined and can they change? For the US... while a State is a State is a State; within each state, the different Congressional districts can change in size whenever the state's legislature feels like it.

With what happened in 1974, how long does a party have to form a government?

Also - when a party has the majority of seats... is there a particular person that is selected as PM? Is it usually (always?) the party leader... or do they do a search within the party to find someone with good "PM qualities"? If it's the party leader - how often do the parties elect their leaders?

Thanks again,

Jeff
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Old 04-06-2005, 03:02 PM   #17 (Print)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cheerdude
Are the constituency lines re-drawn after a period of time?
They get adjusted every now and then. There is no formally specified cycle. The part in power occasionally does it to its own benefit.

Quote:
With what happened in 1974, how long does a party have to form a government?
All I remember happening in 1974 was that there were two general elections - the first returned a hung parliament (that is, the party with the greatest number of seats didn't have more than half of them), which was unable to pass any legislation (because the other parties voted against the government all the time, and defeated it), so the PM went to the country (called an election) again later in the year, and lost.

Quote:
Also - when a party has the majority of seats... is there a particular person that is selected as PM? Is it usually (always?) the party leader

I don't know if that is legislated for, but I can't recall any government in which the PM wasn't the leader of the party in power. I guess it's almost of a definition of the leader of the party - the person the party members most wanted to be their prime minister if they got into power.


Quote:
If it's the party leader - how often do the parties elect their leaders?
Again, no formal cycle. They tend to get a new leader when every thinks the current one has become a liabilty (Thatcher), or when they want a scapegoat (Major/Hague/Wilson), or when the incumbent dies (Smith), or when s/he doesn't want to do it any more (Steele).

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Old 04-06-2005, 03:12 PM   #18 (Print)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ndunlavey
They get adjusted every now and then. There is no formally specified cycle. The part in power occasionally does it to its own benefit.


I thought that the Boundary Commission produced a report every 8 - 12 years on constituancy boundaries, which is then presented to the Home secratary. He then has to bass a bill/act into parlement to get the boundaries amended.

Local Government boundarys are looked at by the Boundary Committee..

With regards the UK policial system - there is heaps of stuff over on wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politi..._United_Kingdom
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United...neral_elections

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Old 04-06-2005, 03:40 PM   #19 (Print)
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I thought that the Boundary Commission produced a report every 8 - 12 years on constituancy boundaries

Yeah? Didn't know that.

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Old 04-06-2005, 06:44 PM   #20 (Print)
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Sometimes, boundaries are not really changeable. The Isle of Wight has by far the largest number of constituents for one MP, and over twice as many as the smallest constituency, which is Sheffield Brightside. It also seems that urban areas can get more MP's per head than rural areas.

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Old 04-07-2005, 01:15 AM   #21 (Print)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ndunlavey
I don't know if that is legislated for, but I can't recall any government in which the PM wasn't the leader of the party in power. I guess it's almost of a definition of the leader of the party - the person the party members most wanted to be their prime minister if they got into power.

I'm struggling to remember who it was, but I'm pretty sure one Conservative Party leader was actually in the House of Lords, and had to give up his peirage in order to become Prime Minister, as his second in command would otherwise have to be "him" in the Commons for things such as Prime Ministers Question Time and we'd have a totally unelected Prime Minister. Sir Alec Douglas-Home!

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Old 04-07-2005, 02:49 AM   #22 (Print)
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Yes, Earl Home was leader of the Conservative party in the early sizties, and resigned his peerage to become PM in 1963. I can't remember, though, how they got him a seat - presumably as a peer he wasn't an elected member, but needed to be in order to lead in the Commons. I guess they had a by-election in a safe seat.

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Old 04-07-2005, 09:42 AM   #23 (Print)
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I'd guess so, too, in exchange for a nice seat in the Lords and a nice Qango or two.

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Old 04-07-2005, 11:18 AM   #24 (Print)
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I'd guess so, too, in exchange for a nice seat in the Lords and a nice Qango or two.


I just love wikipedia - is there anything it doesn't know:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alec_Douglas-Home

By-election was in Kinross & West Perthshire..
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Old 04-07-2005, 12:10 PM   #25 (Print)
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I just love wikipedia - is there anything it doesn't know ...
Including TiVo hacks - for those newbies on the forum.

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Old 04-07-2005, 02:56 PM   #26 (Print)
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The role of the Queen in appointing the Prime Minister isn't quite as simple and automatic as some of the posts above suggest.

For the benefit of our American friends, I should explain that we don't operate as a two part state here. There is a large 3rd party which command between a fifth and a quarter of the votes, and also substantial regional parties in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - indeed the UK parties do not even contest the seats in Northern Ireland. This means that around 80 of the 659 MPs are not Labour or Conservative.

This opens up the possibility of what is called a "hung parliament" - where no one party has overall control.

This opens up a real can of worms for the Queen. Say, for example, Labour have the most seats. Blair says he wishes to form a minority government. (Plenty of precedents for minority governmnets over the years) The Tories and Lib Dems form a coalition and say they want to form a minority government.

What does the Queen do? Go for the largest party? Or the coalition which no-one actually voted for and didn't even have a manifesto in the election?

That's a political decision not an automatic process, and Lord on knows what would happen if it should ever arise.

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Old 04-07-2005, 03:21 PM   #27 (Print)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ndunlavey
All I remember happening in 1974 was that there were two general elections - the first returned a hung parliament (that is, the party with the greatest number of seats didn't have more than half of them), which was unable to pass any legislation (because the other parties voted against the government all the time, and defeated it), so the PM went to the country (called an election) again later in the year, and lost.


Quite the opposite. Harold Wilson, who was PM in a minority govermennt after the Feb election went the polls again in Oct and won!

The Feb 74 election as one of those occasion when the Conservatives got more votes and Labour got more seats - it's not only an American trick!

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Old 04-07-2005, 04:55 PM   #28 (Print)
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AIUI there were also some very "odd" historic constituencies - ISTR that Oxford and Cambridge Universities had MPs of their own, rather than being lumped into the constituency which contained them?
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Old 04-07-2005, 05:11 PM   #29 (Print)
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Originally Posted by sanderton
Quite the opposite. Harold Wilson, who was PM in a minority govermennt after the Feb election went the polls again in Oct and won!

Ah, how the memory plays tricks. Ta for that.

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Old 04-07-2005, 08:40 PM   #30 (Print)
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Originally Posted by sanderton
What does the Queen do? Go for the largest party? Or the coalition which no-one actually voted for and didn't even have a manifesto in the election?

That's a political decision not an automatic process, and Lord on knows what would happen if it should ever arise.


I always thought she would seek advice from the Privy Council, a gathering of the great and good.

http://www.privy-council.org.uk/output/page1.asp

However, it seems that this is not the case, looking at the website. Presumably she must ask some of her confidants from the Privy Council, though?

Incredible, really, how the class system still prevails in the highest elements of government in the UK. As if the unelected House of Lords wasn't enough, we have the (arguably, appropriately named*) Privy Council to back up the Queen's decisions.

* arguably appropriately named when you consider that "privvy" is occasionally used in Britain as slang for "toilet."

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