Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, Sim re-posted her very first fantasy walk in London with an update about her trip plans, leaving for Gatwick in a couple of weeks! Tina reviewed Children of the Revolution, another in the DCI Banks series of mysteries. Jean continues working her way through the Faerie Queene and had a good time with an early P.G. Wodehouse novel, Jill the Reckless.
I’ve been trying to keep up with the Brexit story. By posting updates on my blog, I force myself to understand the issues. Here’s our story so far:
- The referendum to Leave or Remain
- The forms that Brexit might take
- The court decision that said the Parliament gets to weigh in — Brexit isn’t the sole purview of the Prime Minister
- The triggering of Article 50 of the EU to begin the Brexit process
The surprise news this week was that the Prime Minister, Theresa May, called for a snap election. There are so many things about this that are different from the American experience. And, some that have changed in recent years — so things we see on British history shows aren’t how things happen now.
Calling for an election. In the US, elections are held at specific times except under unusual circumstances — every two years for all House members, every six years for Senators (with about one third up for election ever two years), and every four years for President. Recently, the UK took up some of that by having fixed elections of members of the House of Commons every five years. Prior to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, parliaments were dissolved by the monarch and general elections were held whenever that happened. For a couple of centuries, the monarch dissolved parliament at the request of the Prime Minister.
Under the 2011 law, the monarch no longer has the prerogative to dissolve parliament, but there are two ways for general elections to be called early. The House of Commons can vote “no confidence” in the government or two-thirds of the House of Commons can vote for early elections. That second is what PM Theresa May requested and received.
The Parliamentary System. Under UK’s parliamentary system, the Prime Minister is more closely associated with the legislative branch than in the US system where we vote on the President. The Prime Minister is the person who can control the majority in the Parliament (either because her or his party won a majority of seats or because the party has collaborated with one or more other parties and, combined, they have a majority of seats). That means that a general election puts PM May’s job at risk. If the Conservative Party maintains or increases their number of seats in Parliament, she keeps her job. If a different party gets a majority of seats, they would get to choose the Prime Minister. If no one party wins a majority of seats, things get really confusing.
The Surprise and Risk. PM May said repeatedly in recent months that she wouldn’t call for a general election. And, then, she did. Since she became Prime Minister when David Cameron resigned without an election, leading her party to victory would give her greater standing and legitimacy within her own party and throughout the UK. She says that she wants a more clear mandate as the UK moves into Brexit talks.
PM May presumably hopes that the Conservative Party will increase their margin of seats in Parliament. But, according to Five Thirty Eight, polling in the UK is terrible. Remain voters and Brexit remorse could be a factor, but it’s not clear what would get them to coalesce behind any particular party. The Labour Party and the Liberal Democrat party will both want those voters, while the Conservative Party will want to convince voters that it’s too late to re-think Brexit and it’s time to move on. The Scottish National Party remains strong in Scotland (remember the Scots voted ‘Remain’ in the Brexit vote, by a large margin). If voters split among the other parties, the SNP could keep any of them from getting a majority.
The Timing. The election will be June 8. Doesn’t that sound wonderfully short for a national campaign? There will probably be debates, but PM May, so far, has said that she doesn’t plan to participate.
The Archers. This was a surprise story that broke early in the week. The day after our presidential election in the US, two characters on The Archers had a conversation about the winner, but it would have been easy for the producers to record two different scripts depending on who won and just plug the right one in at the last minute. So, I was waiting to see how quickly characters on The Archers talked about the surprise of the upcoming general election in the UK. It was Wednesday. I just love that.
Other Resources. Here are some of the resources that I used while composing this post that might be helpful:
- From a British friend who lives and works in St. Louis: Facebook post
- Prime Minister of the United Kingdom: Wikipedia article
- A deep look at the reasons and risks (complete with a Latin phrase that I had to look up): article from The Spectator
This is going to be interesting to watch.