Forming governments in Westminster parliamentary systems

“The verdict of public opinion was pretty clear. Losers don’t get to form coalitions. Winners are the ones who form governments. The coalition in Britain — it is important to point out it was formed by the party that won the election.” – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, 3 June 2010 The formation of a government following a general election in a Westminster parliamentary system (in particular, one using First-Past-the-Post) follows certain conventions. It is important to understand that voters in countries such as the UK and Canada do not vote to elect a government, much less a prime minister. They each vote in their individual constituencies or ridings to elect a Member of Parliament (MP), who will represent them […]

Overwhelming support for electoral reform – in the UK

A ComRes poll for The Independent released today finds that almost 80% of voters in the United Kingdom support replacing First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) with a “system that reflects more accurately the proportion of votes cast for each party”. Only 18% disagreed. As well, support for changing the electoral system was strong across party lines. Unsurprisingly, support was strongest among Liberal Democrat supporters, 88%, followed by 83% support among Labour voters. Electoral reform has long been a keystone of the Lib Dem platform, and Gordon Brown’s Labour government had started making some noises in favour of electoral reform last year. What is most surprising – and very encouraging – is that 71% of Tory supporters also agreed that FPTP should be replaced. […]

Political Realignment, Pt 2: Are big tent politics obsolete?

In an earlier post, I looked at possible political realignment in the United Kingdom, something a few journalists have speculated about following the formation of the coalition government there. In this post, I will look at political realignment at the federal level in Canada. The two biggest political parties in Canada, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party, are big tent parties, the Liberals more so than the current incarnation of the Conservatives, and both more so, I think, than are the two main parties in the UK (Labour and the Conservatives). The big tent approach argues against any sort of single-issue litmus tests or ideological rigidity, and advocates multiple ideologies and views within a party. Advocates of a big […]

Yes Deputy Prime Minister

The position of deputy prime minister in Westminster parliamentary systems varies from one jurisdiction to another. For example, in both Australia and New Zealand, the position has become an official ministerial portfolio, since 1949 in New Zealand and since 1968 in Australia. In Australia, the duties of the Deputy Prime Minister are to act on behalf of the Prime Minister in his or her absence overseas or on leave. The Deputy Prime Minister has always been a member of the Cabinet, and has always held at least one substantive portfolio. It would be possible for a minister to hold only the portfolio of Deputy Prime Minister, but this has never happened. If the Prime Minister were to die, become incapacitated […]

Yes Prime Minister

In Westminster parliamentary systems, the prime minister is the presiding and actual head of the government and head of the executive branch. In such systems, the head of state or the head of state’s official representative (i.e. the monarch, president, or governor-general), although officially the head of the executive branch, in fact holds a ceremonial position. What is particularly interesting, to me at least, is that in most, if not all of the countries using the Westminster system, the constitutions of those country make no mention of the position, power and status of prime ministers. This is certainly the case in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada (although in the Constitution Act, 1982, a passing reference to a […]

Concerning Security

We are constantly reminded that “the world has changed” since the terrorists attacks on the US in 2001. Increased security is the norm – at airports, around government officials, at large international events such as the Olympics. Which is why this picture may strike you as either a breath of fresh air or incredibly foolhardy: What is that? That is Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg walking from Downing Street to the House of Commons for the Queen’s Speech on 25 May. Cameron is causing great consternation in the UK because of his insistence on walking from his home/office at 10 Downing Street to the House of Commons. He has also instructed ministers to cut down […]