A Guide to Politics for Law Students – PM and the Election

A Guide to Politics for Law Students – PM and the Election

With the now confirmed election result of a Tory majority in the House of Commons, this series of articles turns to look at how a person actually becomes Prime Minister. The previous articles looked at electoral systems and constitutional conventions which are well worth a read.

What may come as a surprise is that the Prime Minister is not directly elected by the people or even by the party. That latter point is rather a nuanced one, as the PM is quite simply the leader of the largest party. A further nuanced point is that even if the recent election has resulted in the second largest party forming a coalition in order to command the confidence of the House of Commons, the PM would have been whoever was the leader of the largest party in that coalition.

In years gone by, when the UK was less democratic, the PM would come from the House of Lords. Over time, and with more of an emphasis on democracy, a convention has grown which rules that they must come from the Commons. It may have occurred that theoretically, if the leader of a party loses their seat at a General Election, they may still be PM as it is only a conventionthat they be from the Commons. Realistically, there is a very slim chance this would ever happen and if it did, there would be too much uproar to have a PM who was not elected by any constituency. This is in conflict with many other PM or country leaders’ basis of election where there is an element of being directly elected by the people.

David Cameron, as leader of the Conservative Party who gained the largest number of seats in the Commons, has become the Prime Minister until such time as he steps aside or triggers a General Election. Whilst many would question the democratic legitimacy of a PM not being directly elected by the people, we saw that conventions hold a lot of power in the UK. The convention of the PM being the leader of the largest party gives the PM the democratic mandate which they need to govern.

What is interesting to note in the 2015 election, aside from all but the exit polls being highly inaccurate, is that the rhetoric of single party government being over has not stood true this time around. The UK will have five years of single party government after five of a coalition, which is something that has been a long standing position of the government of the country. The next article will look at the political situation after a week of single party government and the announcement of the cabinet positions.

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