Author Topic: How the UK government works?  (Read 167 times)

Offline Lynn2000

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How the UK government works?
« on: November 15, 2018, 05:21:42 pm »
As a parallel thread to the US government one, I invite any Brits to discuss peculiarities of their own government. I was just reading an article about the latest Brexit chaos, and one thing I've always been confused about is how Prime Ministers seem to come and go at random times.

In the US, we have presidential elections every 4 years. I don't think that's ever been interrupted. And, someone can only serve 2 terms (8 years total) max. (This was a recent-ish change, after Franklin Roosevelt got elected 4 times in the early part of the 20th century.) If someone gets elected, and then they do stuff that a lot of people don't like, there's not that much legal recourse--you have to put up with them until the next election, 4 years later. (Impeachment, yes, but the two presidents who were impeached, that is, accused--Clinton and Jackson--were not found guilty, and served out their terms. Nixon was threatened with impeachment and resigned preemptively. No other legal strategy has ever been used, that I'm aware of. Please correct me if I'm wrong on any of this.)

The elections are, as I said, every 4 years, and always the same time of year--first Tuesday in November, I believe. It probably hasn't always been that date, but maybe for the last 100 years or so. So election time is very predictable. The representative and senators in Congress are elected at set times as well--it's staggered, but basically every even-numbered year in the fall, elections are going on.

It seems like in the UK, elections can be triggered very suddenly, like when Theresa May called for that general election that ended up weakening her position. That seems so weird to me. How can politicians get their sales pitch out to people, and travel around to campaign events and so forth, if an election can pop up at such short notice? What's this "vote of no confidence" thing, that seems to bring in a whole new set of leaders? Is there a limit to how often that can be triggered? Otherwise it seems like there wouldn't be time to get anything done, everyone would spend all their time moving boxes from office to office. How long can the prime minister serve?

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Offline Poesie

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Re: How the UK government works?
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2018, 04:06:23 am »
Curious to see what UK folks have to say on this one.

Australia’s federal (almost typoed that as feral) parliament is based on the Westminster one, though we have an elected state based Senate rather than a House of Lords.

We’re also had quite a turnover of Prime Ministers in recent years to the extent it’s become a joke. We’ve had 7 in ~10 years, I think: Ηoward (election win),  Rudd (election win), Gillard, Rudd, Abbott (election win), Turnbull, Morrison. Noting that Howard was in for 12 years till Rudd won the 2007 election.

We don’t directly elect our PMs, each political party elects a leader. The PM is usually the head of the party in the lower house who has the majority of seats (or negotiates, like Gillard did so well, to form a minority government if there’s a hung parliament). So if the party wants to change leaders mid term, they can do so, thus changing the PM. Once upon a time, who was the PM tended to change only as a result of election wins. But 4 of the last 7 PM changes happened between elections (though Gillard and Turnbull both subsequently retained power after calling elections).

Here’s a cartoon mocking our leadership stability. The players from left to right are Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-11-16/matt-goldings-cartoon-at-behind-the-lines-1/10506364




Offline lowspark

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Re: How the UK government works?
« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2018, 09:27:31 am »
In the US, we have presidential elections every 4 years. I don't think that's ever been interrupted. And, someone can only serve 2 terms (8 years total) max. (This was a recent-ish change, after Franklin Roosevelt got elected 4 times in the early part of the 20th century.) If someone gets elected, and then they do stuff that a lot of people don't like, there's not that much legal recourse--you have to put up with them until the next election, 4 years later. (Impeachment, yes, but the two presidents who were impeached, that is, accused--Clinton and Jackson--were not found guilty, and served out their terms. Nixon was threatened with impeachment and resigned preemptively. No other legal strategy has ever been used, that I'm aware of. Please correct me if I'm wrong on any of this.)

Just a couple of clarifications. :)

A president can only be elected to two terms, however the maximum number of years they can serve is 10. So when Lyndon Johnson became president after Kennedy's assassination, he served less than two years. He was then elected (4 years) and he could have run for a second term, but chose not to. If he had been elected to a second term, he would have served just under 10 years.

The two presidents who were impeached and acquitted were Clinton, and Andrew Johnson in 1868. He became president when Lincoln was assassinated.
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Offline Lynn2000

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Re: How the UK government works?
« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2018, 10:01:43 am »
In the US, we have presidential elections every 4 years. I don't think that's ever been interrupted. And, someone can only serve 2 terms (8 years total) max. (This was a recent-ish change, after Franklin Roosevelt got elected 4 times in the early part of the 20th century.) If someone gets elected, and then they do stuff that a lot of people don't like, there's not that much legal recourse--you have to put up with them until the next election, 4 years later. (Impeachment, yes, but the two presidents who were impeached, that is, accused--Clinton and Jackson--were not found guilty, and served out their terms. Nixon was threatened with impeachment and resigned preemptively. No other legal strategy has ever been used, that I'm aware of. Please correct me if I'm wrong on any of this.)

Just a couple of clarifications. :)

A president can only be elected to two terms, however the maximum number of years they can serve is 10. So when Lyndon Johnson became president after Kennedy's assassination, he served less than two years. He was then elected (4 years) and he could have run for a second term, but chose not to. If he had been elected to a second term, he would have served just under 10 years.

The two presidents who were impeached and acquitted were Clinton, and Andrew Johnson in 1868. He became president when Lincoln was assassinated.

Oh, how funny, I kept thinking it was Andrew Jackson, I guess because he was such an explosive and divisive personality with a lot of scandals attached to him.

Offline Athersgeo

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Re: How the UK government works?
« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2018, 10:52:23 am »
*wades in, rolls up sleeves*

Hi. We sadly do not have anything near as fun as School House Rocks for this one so you'll have to settle for me (and anyone else from the UK who wants to chime in!)

Dealing with the vote of no confidence thing first (because that's the easiest one): members of a political party can decide that they have no confidence in their current leader for whatever reason. If enough of them have no confidence in their leader (and the exact threshold for that will vary party to party) they can force a vote to see if everyone* else in the party agrees with the no confidence thing and, if it turns out not enough people have no confidence, you then get a leadership contest to see who should now lead the party. Clear?  ;D It becomes a bit more of a complication if the party concerned happens to be in power at the time (because the leader is the Prime Minister of Her Majesty's Government) but if you want to see how THAT plays out look up the end of Margaret Thatcher's time in office. (Or, y'know, keep an eye on a suitable British news source and watch current events unfold!)

*Note: with Votes of No Confidence I'm not sure if it's purely the parliamentary members who get a say or if it gets thrown open to the national membership - I suspect it's another thing that actually varies by party.

Okay. General Elections. The first thing to remember is that a UK General Election campaign lasts three weeks and then we vote. That's it. That's all you get. So a snap election is not a problem from that regard.

Also: we do *NOT* vote for the Prime Minister. No, I don't care WHAT the press say, we really, REALLY don't. The only people who vote for the Prime Minister are the people whom he or she represents as MP. So in the case of our current Prime Minister, the people of Maidenhead are the ones who vote for Theresa May. Before her it was the people in Whitney in Oxfordshire. Or Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. Or Sedgefield. Or Huntingdon. Or Finchley. Or...well feel free to Google the Prime Ministers prior to Margaret Thatcher! It's a very, VERY different concept to the American model where you vote for your president direct (sort of, ignoring that whole electoral college thing which just perplexes the heck out of everyone!).

General Election timing: this used to be something that was variable. The maximum term length for a parliament was (I think) five years, but it could be much less. So there was an election in 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992, 1997...and then the law was changed during Tony Blair's time in office so that it was set to be a regular cycle (like the American system) of a General Election every five years so that everyone knew where they stood. (In theory.) Given the snap election last year, there's clearly some provision for holding an election sooner than five years still, but exactly how the law works in that regard I'm not sure.

And yes, it can mean very little gets done but, on that score, I would point out that we've not actually had our entire government shut down because no-one could agree a budget as happened not that long ago in the US, so no system's perfect!

Oh, and you have to get the Queen's permission to hold an election. But that's mainly a formality. You also have to ask her permission to form a government once the election's been held and all the votes have been counted. Again, though: mainly a formality.

There are no term limits on how long you can be an MP (and by extension, how long you can be Prime Minister). RH Kenneth Clarke MP is the current Father of the House - he's been a serving MP since 1970 (although I think he may be stepping down at the next general election).

The way the UK government maps to the US is as follows (very roughly at least!)

US President = The sitting monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth II)
US Senate = UK House of Lords
US House of Representatives = UK House of Commons

Nancy Pelosi and whoever the House of Representatives Republican Leader is are in the equivalent positions to Jeremy Corbin and Theresa May. (Though I rather think that being Majority Leader of the House Of Representatives has less power attached to the role than being Majority Leader in the House of Commons!)

The Queen has no constitutional powers so can't overrule parliament (even when I'm sure she'd really, REALLY like to) - unlike the US President who, I believe, CAN overrule the Senate/House if needed.

Our upper house (House of Lords) is unelected (unlike the Senate) although gone are the days when it was entirely populated by the landed gentry. Most of the current serving Lords are former MPs and Business People who've been nominated by their respective political parties.

Finally, we also have elections at more local level. These happen every three years, in May. Quite often a general election will be timed to fit in with that cycle - but not always.

PHEW. Hopefully that answers a few questions at least!
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Offline lowspark

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Re: How the UK government works?
« Reply #5 on: November 16, 2018, 11:18:49 am »
This is all very interesting!!

I learned a bit about how the UK government works by watching House of Cards - the original British version, which by the way, is miles better than the US version, IMO.
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Offline Lynn2000

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Re: How the UK government works?
« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2018, 02:41:40 pm »
Thank you, that was very informative! So it seems like it's mainly my own perception that the Prime Minister changes so often--it CAN happen, with no-confidence votes and snap elections, but it doesn't seem to do so in practice that often.

It does help to compare it more with the US Congress--for example, there are rumblings that Nancy Pelosi won't be the leader of the Democrats there anymore (Minority Leader of the House of Representatives), but I really don't understand how such a person is chosen. She got elected to the House of Representatives by the people of California's 12th district; but it was other people in her party in the House of Representatives who decided she would be the Minority Leader, I think. I'm not sure if it's an official post requiring a formal vote in the House or more of a straw poll/group agreement. I think that if people (Democrat House members) start to lose confidence in her, someone else could be made Minority Leader in her place, rather suddenly and without any kind of formal campaign or election. So that sounds a bit more like the UK Prime Minister to me, though that position is much more powerful, of course.

Offline lowspark

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Re: How the UK government works?
« Reply #7 on: November 16, 2018, 03:03:39 pm »
So the way I understand it is that she is actually trying to become Speaker of the House. She's currently House minority leader, but when the membership changes, based on this past election, Democrats will no longer be the minority. Thus, a Democrat gets elected to be Speaker.

Pelosi was Speaker the last time the Democrats were in the majority and she is hoping to be Speaker again. Not everyone is in favor of that so she has to curry votes among the Democratic members (and incoming freshmen) of the House.

Each party nominates someone for Speaker and then the entire membership (or at least those present) votes. So essentially, whoever has the majority, in this case the Democrats, wins. So really, it's the membership of the majority party who chose the Speaker.

Quote
When a Congress convenes for the first time, each major party conference or caucus nominates a candidate for Speaker. Members customarily elect the Speaker by roll call vote. A Member usually votes for the candidate from his or her own party conference or caucus but can vote for anyone, whether that person has been nominated or not.

Sorry, we seem to be drifting back & forth between US & UK. It's all just so interesting!
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Offline Athersgeo

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Re: How the UK government works?
« Reply #8 on: May 24, 2019, 08:05:40 am »
Just as a follow up (and I realise I'm slightly necro-posting but, as they say, events dear boy, events!):

I had the timing wrong back when I did my explainer, but we are now going to see a leadership contest and a change of Prime Minister, so if you're at all interested in this stuff (and I freely admit that were I a neutral I'd be out stocking up on the popcorn), follow someone like the BBC or Sky News and you'll get some good, coherent explanations of just what the heck is going on. (Caveat Reader: Both sources have more or less political bias in their editorial content so you may want to take opinions with a grain of salt, but for explanations of process that shouldn't matter.)

Offline Free Range Hippy Chick

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Re: How the UK government works?
« Reply #9 on: May 24, 2019, 10:35:43 am »
And if you want another demonstration of how it really works, on top of House of Cards, I recommend Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, readily available on Youtube.
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