Alex Massie

The Tories Latest Constitutional Gimmick is Daft

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Ian Leslie says much of what needs to be said about the Tories new and gimmicky tweak to the constitution - that anyone who becomes Prime Minister between elections must call an election within six months - a proposal that, as Leslie puts it, is "at once carelessly radical and hopelessly irrelevant."

It's also yet another indication that we now have an uneasy, perhaps even unhappy, hybrid political system that is neither fully Presidential nor fully parliamentary. We can see which way the wind is blowing, mind you. And this raises other questions too: all the party leaders pledge to restore parliament and increase its ability to scrutinise and perhaps even check the executive.

Yet as "legitimacy" questions increasingly dominate the election campaign and its coverage whoever becomes Prime Minister is likely to suppose that they have a genuinely personal mandate that parliament as a whole lacks entirely. The office of Prime Minister, already over-mighty, has been strengthened by this campaign.

Then again, this Tory policy - which I predict will never actually become law - is bonkers. Would it have been a good thing if Churchill had been forced to call an election in 1940? Or Jim Callaghan in 1976? Or John Major in 1990?

In any case, didn't the Tories campaign on a platform of "Vote Blair, Get Brown" in 2005? It was quite clear that Brown was going to succeed Blair and this was, the Tories suggested, a good reason for not voting for Labour. The notion that Brown is an "illegitimate" PM is and always has been, quite ridiculous.

The public may not wear him being replaced by another "unelected" PM such as Johnson or Miliband but that wouldn't make any such PM "illegitimate" in any constitutional sense. We have elections pretty regularly anyway and there's no need to have more of these affairs than is absolutely necessary.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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