The dubious legitimacy of Boris Johnson’s successor

The dubious legitimacy of Boris Johnson’s successor

The dubious legitimacy of Boris Johnsons successor

Britain is known to be a parliamentary democracy. Britons vote to form a parliament in general elections, and the majority of that parliament decides who forms the government and who is the prime minister who heads it.

The Conservatives led by Boris Johnson won a very large outright majority in the 2019 general election and it is therefore not only perfectly legal but also politically legitimate for another Conservative to call the shots at the Downing after Johnson announced his resignation on 7 July pass street. However, it is highly doubtful that Boris’ successor – or rather the successor, as candidate Liz Truss is the clear favorite over her rival Rishi Sunak – will have any such legitimacy.

Why? Basically because it is not just a question of choosing the next Conservative Party leader and consequently the next Prime Minister, but a fierce competition between the two candidates that has led them to offer a long and compelling list of promises to do so relevant issues such as taxation, public spending cuts, Brexit/European Union, asylum and immigration, gender equality, defence, education, health, climate change etc.

In other words, the Conservatives are fundamentally changing the electoral platform that helped them win in 2019, but it is not justified by crises like the Covid, nor, crucially, do they subject it to the judgment of all Brits, only a minority.. .of less than 200,000 voters: the Conservative Party militants. This legitimation problem is reinforced by the fact that these election promises are intended to convince an electorate that is not only small, but also has a very special profile: older; obviously conservative with a capital ce, but also with a small ce; supports a hard Brexit; and more against immigration or multiculturalism than the country as a whole; more for tax cuts than for increases in public spending… This makes it easier for the campaign promises, which are not really elections, to be even more extreme – and in this case very right-leaning – than they would be if the candidates were campaigning nationwide for the voices would have to fight.

Being a parliamentary democracy means that citizens delegate their power to parliament, knowing that they can change that decision and raise opposition every four or five years. So if the Prime Minister resigns mid-term, the successor should be elected either by all voters or by Parliament itself. In the latter case, when there is a party with a clear majority, it makes sense for that party’s MPs to decide who becomes the new prime minister. This was until many political parties – not just in the UK – decided it was militancy that, one way or another, had the final say in choosing the leader. What may seem very well-intentioned and very democratic invites an ideological radicalism that increasingly smacks of populism.

The competition that exists between Truss and Sunak today did not happen when Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair in 2007, nor when Theresa May did the same with David Cameron in 2016 after he lost the Brexit referendum. Both Brown’s and May’s rivals walked out before the militancy vote and were “crowned,” as they say in British political jargon.

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Choosing the leader through militancy raises important issues when it comes to filling a leader and prime minister in the middle of the legislature. It doesn’t always make sense to call general elections, and there isn’t always consensus to crown a single candidate. But worse than all that, the party in power is changing the mandate of the elections, ignoring the electorate as a whole, not because it feels it is necessary for the country, but solely to please its most extremist militants , because that’s the way a certain politician has to come to power. Doesn’t seem like a very legitimate route to Downing Street.

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