Both main UK political parties have for more than a decade betrayed parliamentary democracy in favour of a US primary-type method for electing a party leader. On Monday we witnessed some of the awful consequences of that in the live televised head to head Truss-Sunak ‘debate’. The style, and no doubt agreed structure, of the prime time BBC1 broadcast was a grotesque dumbed down pandering to broadcast media conceptions of what the public will stomach. Given that it was the Parliamentary Conservative Party that reduced the candidates to two, and that 160,000 party members who, for the cheap price of an annual membership fee, will determine who the PM is, then any preconceived notion of what the British public wants is irrelevant. Another consequence of this Tory leadership election method, just as is normal now during a General Election of course, is the rival camps’ petty abuse on social media. I note that the media broadcast the five candidates’ debate before it shifted to a two horse race among Tory party members. However the choice of whether to broadcast these debates was that of the Tory party. They could have kept the election of their parliamentary leader where it properly belongs: in Parliament.
This Tory members’ party leadership election is worse than a US-style party primary because this is the third election in a row among Conservative Party members that has selected the PM by selecting their party leader. I accept that we live in a parliamentary democracy and that therefore the choice of PM is not the people’s direct choice. And I accept that the resultant new PM is not obligated to call an instant general election because, yes, their, authority comes from that elected Parliament. It is precisely my belief in parliamentary democracy, despite residual royal authority exercised by an executive only partly checked by an elected parliament, that means that I think that a parliamentary party should determine who its leader is, not that party’s membership. The fact that the media has influence on any such membership election of any major political party is largely the fault of the two parties for agreeing this method of choosing the leader. And for agreeing to televise the debates.
Surely an election method that brought us Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the opposition and which runs the serious risk of imposing Liz Truss on us as PM, is very flawed indeed. I stand by bad electoral outcomes if that is either the popular will or the will of popularly elected MPs. I wholly object to bad, or any, outcome decided by a narrow band of Tory or Labour Party members, especially when this narrow band in either party can get to determine, directly, who the Prime Minister of the UK is.
I would like to think that the two main UK party leaderships could agree together to go back to the future and resume parliamentary democracy when it comes to choosing their party leader. However this would be akin to reinventing Labour’s civil war of the 1980s, and for the Tories it would upset a membership base that seems to like the power to ensure that ‘chief betrayer’ Sunak can be prevented from entering No10 in favour of someone whose economic grasp revolves around printing money and whose regional knowledge when visiting an enemy capital suggested she wasn’t fit to teach GCSE Geography let alone lead the primary European military power.