Britain’s Unelected Government

Tobias Stone
5 min readSep 27, 2022
Photo by Callum Skelton on Unsplash

By pursuing radical new policies, Liz Truss is adopting a manifesto for which she does not have an electoral mandate.

A strange thing about British democracy is how many prime ministers are not elected in, well, an election. The British electoral system gives power to whichever party receives the most seats in parliament, and whoever is leader of that party then becomes prime minister.

If, during an electoral term, the party decides to oust its leader or that leader resigns, then they can elect another leader. That member of parliament then becomes prime minister. We saw this when Tony Blair resigned and Gordon Brown became prime minister without having stood in a general election. When this happened, many Conservative politicians, in particular Boris Johnson, were very vocal arguing that Brown should call an election to receive a mandate from the people, not just from his party.

“The extraordinary thing is that it looks as though he will now be in 10 Downing Street for three years, and without a mandate from the British people. No one elected Gordon Brown as Prime Minister…” (Boris Johnson on Gordon Brown, 2007)

Since then, the Conservative party has given the country four prime ministers in six years. Theresa May became prime minister through an internal party vote, then called an election to win a (reduced) mandate from the people. Then Boris Johnson, he who was so critical of Brown becoming prime minister without winning an election, became prime minister without winning an election. Like May, he called an election, and won a significant majority. He used that majority to argue that he had a mandate to carry out some radical policies, and when it came time for his party to oust him, he suggested that it was ‘eccentric’ for the party to remove a leader with such a huge mandate.

He was, of course, mistaken about this. The mandate was for his party, not for him. He may have been leading that party in the election, but in the UK we do not elect prime ministers as Americans elect Presidents.

In a relatively recent change, the Conservative party decided the final leadership vote would be made by the party’s members. These are a self-selecting group of people who pay £25 to become a member. Anyone can become a member of the party, and in doing so…

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