Monday, 11 July 2011

A Prime Minister in the Lords?


After the discourse on the News of the World phone hacking had reached the Commons floor today Labourites started tweeting about what would happen to the Conservatives and the Government if David Cameron were to step-down in a VNC.

Now, I don’t think that this is very likely to happen. In fact, I’d put money on to say that it won’t. However a discussion with @tomilo revealed a slight issue; nobody is entirely sure what would happen if Cameron were to go. I suggested that the Party Chair would be the next best thing to a leader we’d have without an official Deputy.

The flaw being then that The Baroness Warsi is, well, a Baroness. How could she lead the party from the House of Lords? The simple answer is that she couldn’t. It’s far too impractical and would never be accepted but I’m not too sure about that.

The world of the Lords that we seem to insist is far away and a relic of the past is actually a lot closer than we care to think. Lords take part at all levels of government, from parliamentary secretaries right through to the upper echelons on the Supreme Court and right throughout Whitehall as policy advisors. They are sometimes even Ministers in the Government or Secretaries of State such as Lord Adonis.

We send them abroad and even push them for high-profile international roles. Lord Carrington, Foreign Secretary to Margaret Thatcher, served as the Secretary General of NATO and more recently Baroness Ashton of Upholland is off jet-setting as Europe’s face to the world. So why then is the thought of a Prime Minister being in the other place so unusual to us?

This is where I go a little populist and start to blame the media. I do however maintain that the now wide viewing of Parliament on television and especially Prime Minister’s Questions has led to some completely constructed idea that the PM must be available to the House of Commons. 

Of course, the House of Commons no more scrutinises the Prime Minister than I do in reality. They can call a Vote of No Confidence all they want but they could do exactly the same in the Lords. The only difference is that the Lords remain unelected. People begin to get queasy about our elected MPs having ‘no say’. A bit of a bizarre argument considering the absolute fa├žade that is PMQs in the first place.

So could a Prime Minister work from the Lords? Constitutionally it’s not unheard of or unconstitutional. It just hasn’t been done in a while. Robert Gascoyne-Cecil was our last Lordly PM and as you can probably guess from his name, he was a 19th Century Tory. Not the greatest defence of my argument, I understand.

However the fact remains that there is no real reason why a Prime Minister couldn’t do Prime Minister’s questions from the Lords. At the moment, the PM sits in the Commons and appoints a Leader in the Lords. Why then couldn’t he or she sit in the Lords and simply appoint a chief spokesman in the Commons? The Leader of the Commons post exists, why not use it more?

Natually, it will never happen. The public would, for one reason or another, oppose it and the party would never risk electing a leader from the Lords. It would be an interesting way of making a point about the need for Lords reform though wouldn’t it? I am told Labour leaders must be MPs. Sucks to be them. So how about it LibDems? Tories? Next time there is a leadership contest, why not make a point and cause a little mischief?

p.s My first blog post so play nice ;)

1 comment:

  1. Was reading your marriage post and spotted this. It was brought up recently. The de facto Prime Minister in the event of the PM's resignation or death is the First Secretary of State. So currently William Hague would be in charge until a permanent leader was appointed.

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