A Parliamentary Democracy explained

Jon Owen Jones argues that Parliamentary process means that a future Corbyn government is a fantasy

We live in a parliamentary democracy which means we elect Members of Parliament and they form governments and decide on laws. Unless of course we set that aside in a referendum, as we have just done, or else agree a treaty with other countries to abide by collective decisions, which we have just decided to scrap in that referendum. OK , so there are complications, but in general MPs vote and MPs govern in our name. Although we talk of electing a Prime Minister in reality a Prime Minister is whom so ever commands the support of the majority of MPs. David Cameron`s successor as leader of the Tory Party will be decided by whatever rules the Tory Party decide, however to become Prime Minister requires the support of sufficient numbers of MPs. Usually that would be a majority of the House of Commons in one party or a coalition of parties. A minority government can of course hold office but only if no other MP can command a greater degree of support from their colleagues. If for whatever reason a Prime Minister loses that support they can be replaced at any time by another MP, There is no requirement to consult the wider electorate.

The United States is not a Parliamentary Democracy. It directly elects a President who in turn appoints his or her government. Let me illustrate the difference by reference to two prominent politicians an American and a Brit. Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn are two very different characters but they are in a similar position. They both aspire to the highest office in their countries. They are also both very unpopular with elected members of their respective parties. Only one of these individuals has a realistic chance of realising that ambition. If Trump can win the Presidential election he can appoint anyone he wants to form his government. That government remains in power for the next four years and can only be changed should the President and deputy die or should Trump be impeached.

In the UK, Corbyn’s route to power is dependent on the support of colleagues which he does not have. Prime Minister Corbyn would need 300+ MPs to support him and maintain him in office and vote with him in nearly every division for years ahead. He would also need the closer support of around 90 MPs who would form the government and fill each of the ministerial positions. As 80% of the Parliamentary Labour Party has expressed its lack of confidence in its Leader where are the future loyalists to sustain the Corbyn administration? Well they are not in Parliament and short of arranging 172 byelections and winning them all a future Corbyn government is a fantasy.

Yet the membership of the Labour Party have elected Jeremy as leader. Either they did so because they do not understand how dependent governments are on continuous parliamentary support. Or they did not realise how little support he had amongst his colleagues. Or they have no ambition to get a Labour a government. Or they do not believe in parliamentary democracy.

Jon Owen Jones is a former Welsh Office Minister and Labour MP for Cardiff Central.

9 thoughts on “A Parliamentary Democracy explained

  1. Why bother with having one man one vote in the party to elect the leader then? Surly on the above argument only elected members should vote or the leaderer/ Perish the thought the poor buggers who tramp the streets for those who get elected get a say /

    Indeed why not go the whole hog and turn the Annual Conference into little more than a rally where this no debate and the views of the membership are ignored?

    Oh hang on that’s what already happens

  2. ” Or they did not realise how little support he had amongst his colleagues. ”
    Or a large majority of Labour’s members didn’t like the Parliamentary Labour party as it was (still is) and saw electing Corbyn as the leader a step in the right direction. However they were clearly naiive to think that a majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party would buy into the idea.

    “Or they have no ambition to get a Labour a government.”
    I think that many would see a government of the type anti-Corbynites envisage as having “Labour government” on the tin but the contents being “Tory-lite government”.

    “Or they do not believe in parliamentary democracy”
    The question now is, does a majority of the Parlimentary Labour Party believe in democracy in the Labour Party

  3. The difficulty that the Labour Party has currently is the way in which the membership is pitched against the MPs. This is because the voting system, one member – one vote, takes no account of the Parliamentary leader’s need to have the support of the Parliamentary party. In comparison, the Conservative Party system allows the MPs to vote for a shortlist of two, with the members having the final say. This system does acknowledge the above-mentioned need for Parliamentary support while allowing the members the final say. Perhaps, in the fullness of time, Labour will review its electoral procedures to avoid such stand-offs in future. But what looks certain is that the Conservative Party is likely to emerge from this crisis far less scathed than Labour.

  4. “The membership of the Labour Party have elected Jeremy Corbyn as leader” . That says it all. It is proof that the majority of the PLP are totally out of touch with the membership and I would suggest also a large part of the electorate who have been disenfranchised by the support of the PLP for tory policies either by abstaining or voting FOR the cuts in welfare. These treacherous vermin should be deselected at the earliest opportunity and replaced by canditates who are prepared to fight the tories and represent the membership and the disenfranchised electorate.

  5. The trouble with incoherent protests is that they are incoherent. Jeremy Corben is the result of protest against the erosion of socialist principles in the Labour party…some might say any principles. Similarly the EU referendum resulted in a shout of frustration from people who saw little to lose from Brexit because they had little to lose. There was no point in David Cameron shroud waving about the potential suffering of the City of London and how people might have to sell their second homes in the South of France when many people who have a vote actually want to punish the well off establishment.

  6. Your final list of alternatives is far from exhaustive.

    e.g. try “or they recognise that ‘The Labour Party’ as it has been for at least thirty years past has run out of road, and that they therefore need to take a longer view for future left/progressive governance.”

  7. None of the critical comments here attempt to address my argument; a Corbyn led Labour government is unfeasible since 300 or so MPs are not available to support him and only a preelection purge could possibly change this. Arranging such a purge would inevitably split the party and hardly help its electability.
    Ian`s 4th `or` is really a sub set of my second `or`. His longer view and CapM`s step in the right direction are essentially agreeing that Corbyn cannot form a government. Who knows what will happen in the longer term. Here and now we face decades of Tory rule and a Brexit decision which would never had occured if Labour trade unions had not picked Ed rather than his brother.
    Edwin ah the authentic voice of the kinder Corbynite party.Even Aneurin never called his Labour collegues vermin.
    Lastly Labour MPs also have mandates from their local parties and from the over 9million people who elected them.

  8. @jon owen jones
    Effectively your argument boils down to the fact that the Labour is in a mess because most Labour Party members aren’t able to accept that a Tory-lite Labour Party is the only type of Labour Party that middle England will vote into government.

    You suggested four reasons why a majority of your members miss this point perhaps because they are somewhat naiive or obtuse but have ignored the most obvious reason. Most of your members don’t like the sort of Labour party favoured by you and a majority of Labour MPs.

  9. Thanks for this article. I see now why it will be very difficult for Jeremy Corbyn to succeed and become Prime Minister without other Labour MPs backing him. But if the disagreement between him and his colleagues leads to a split in the Labour Party and the formation of two separate ‘Labour Parties’, will Jeremy Corbyn have to be re-elected as the leader of one of the ‘new’ Labour Parties, or will he be able to remain as Leader of the older of the two?

    Although Labour MPs have mandates from their local parties, will this local support remain the same given the economic and political outlook to which Brexit has added its dissent?

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