Saturday, May 24, 2008

Are We Heading for a Constitutional First?

With all this talk of a second successive unelected Prime Minister, I wondered to myself When was the last occurrence in peacetime that a Prime Minister was replaced twice between elections?

I think that the only time was way back in 1742 when Spencer Compton took over from Walpole before dying the next year, but that doesn't really count as it couldn't be avoided. Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill is another example, but that doesn't count as it was in wartime.

Does anyone have any other examples? If not, we could be heading for a unique situation in modern day politics. Although, I still think Labour would be mad to do it.


Anonymous said...

Two far more recent precedents. Lord John Russell won the 1865 election. Upon the fal of his government (without a further poll) the 14th Earl of Derby took office. His retirement paved the way for the first Disraeli ministry.

Lord Salisbury retired in 1902, to be succeeded by A. J. Balfour. Balfour's government resigned in 1905 to be replaced by that of Campbell Bannerman before the spectacular 1906 election.

Shaun said...

No examples but I suppose it highlights that a Labour Deputy labour is a holder of an honorific title and in no way expected to deputise for an incapacitated or removed/resigned PM. That makes me feel much better, considering.

Anonymous said...


Don't know about the history bit, that is your territory.

However I could imagine an election happening within the PLP, between a weak candidate and a strong candidate. And then once the strong candidate wins this being passed off as an 'elected leader'.

Let's also not forget about Finkelstein's current hypothesis of Harriet Harperson being elected the new leader.

The more I think about that the more attractive it sounds. At least 10 years in the wilderness, possibly 15 years for the Labour party. We would be fools to underestimate the ability of the Labour party to shoot themselves in the feet.

Simon Harley said...

After the 1832 election; Earl Grey, Viscount Melbourne, The Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel. Four Prime Ministers in THREE years - from both the Whigs and the Conservative party mind you.

Prodicus said...

I've had a bet on Mrs Dromey to succeed Brown as PM (for several reasons) since the local election/Boris results, that is assuming he is defenestrated like Thatcher or falls on his sword - though I've never had him down as the parfit knight so I reckon that's unlikely.

Daniel said...

It would spark a constitutional crisis Iain.

This is one occasion that the Queen could overrule and block a third Prime Minister in a single Parliament. Even though I am a republican, she would be justified in using her powers in order to maintain a stable parliament.

justoneglass said...

Goodness gracious me, Harperson as PM - the very thought makes me feel physically sick. Actually it also makes me think how she could be belittled by working out some anagrams of "Harriet Harman" - and here are a couple:-

Rat Harm Hernia
Errant ham hair

"Harriet Harperson" becomes:-

Horsehair Partner
The Piranha Errors
Pariah Her Snorter
Narrator He Perish
Rehash Rarer Point

There's a great site which works all these out for you - not my own work!

David Boothroyd said...

The short 1892-1895 Parliament technically counts. Salisbury's Conservative government stayed on to meet Parliament, and got defeated by a motion of no confidence; Gladstone took over and was PM for two years before handing over to Rosebery.

Rosebery then resigned after being defeated on the Cordite censure vote and Salisbury came in again but almost immediately dissolved Parliament.

There is of course no constitutional problem with replacing the Prime Minister, because we are a Parliamentary democracy and the Prime Minister isn't even an elected post as it is in other Parliamentary democracies like Ireland.

Jonny Wright said...

Unelected Prime Minister? That's all of them. When have we ever had an elected Prime Minister? The only thing we get to elect is our local MP. Not the government, not the PM.

If you want to argue that we should introduce a directly-elected PM, who then appoints the executive, as part of a properly-considered package of constitutional reform, then fine - that's something we can at least debate. But it seems a bit odd to basically accept the status quo, where no PM is supposed to have a personal mandate in the first place, and then moan that the PM is unelected.

Anonymous said...

The Observer is reporting that Brown has been told to appoint a "leader in waiting"...

Anonymous said...

I do not know of any examples but apart from wartime the ones quoted were before universal suffrage and modern concepts such as, well, democracy.

Churchill was wartime - crisis wartime - and a bit different.

off at a tangent it seems according to this wonderfully focussed blog that Monty Python is in fact the true incumbent of the Nr10 bunker

M. Hristov said...

There was previously a convention that all cabinet ministers had to resign and seek re-election upon appointment. I don't see that being brought back in the current climate.

Anonymous said...

Sorry - actually THIS
is the wonderfully focussed blog, but my earlier link is still,er... usefully pointed.

Anonymous said...

So tell me what exactly would Team Cameron do about oil at $135 a barrel/Rising world commodity prices/Northern Rock/a 10p tax?

One thing's for sure.

The boys are going to have to start answering questions sooner or later.

Anonymous said...


I think your history is right.

Perhaps there is a more interesting question. When was the last time that a lame duck prime minister clung on to office for two years, without regard to the damage he was doing to his party and his country?

Maybe this is a first.... because I suspect that is what is going happen.


Anonymous said...

As a byproduct of this mess, it is with great pleasure that I shall watch the demise of Ed Balls, the bullying homunculus and arch Brownite. Here is a man whose tactics include shouting down people in debates and briefing against his own colleagues and conducting a witch hunt against faith schools and schools that succeed. There is also the unresolved allegiance to the murky Smith Institute.

Luckily for us, he is so close to Brown I doubt he will ever be in a high profile post or position of influence again, once the Bogeyman is relegated to a footnote in history.

Chris Paul said...

The past is another country. But Major was in this kind of mess and losing by-elections and all, and he got another term now didn't he.

Chris Paul said...

PS I see you've fitted in the "second unelected PM" schtick on BBC News Channel. We DO NOT elect PMs. And we do not have general elections on change in party leadership.

Laurence Boyce said...

Hi Iain - just watching you on the paper review. You mentioned that journalists will doubtless be attempting to catch a glimpse of McCain's BBQ from miles away with wide-angle lenses.

Don't you think a telephoto lens would be the better bet? ;)

Liz said...

I'm think you're right - I had a hunch that the Marquess of Rockingham's death might have triggered a run of two unelected First Lords of the Treasury, but I've just looked it up and I appear to be gratuitously wrong. I'm lousy at this stuff - and the Fox/North stuff is revoltingly complicated anyway.

I hate to mention this kind of thing two nights running, Iain, but your existing wardrobe appears to be much too big for you. The (very nice) moleskin jacket you were wearing this evening should be donated to the Clothe Pickles fund, and you should pop out and buy a new, snugger one.

Anonymous said...

You say on BBC News that Frank Field 'has lost his senses' in calling for a return of big hitters like Blunkett Clarke Milburn and Byers.

I think your missing the point Mr Dale, " 'ees 'avin a larff ".

Others less charitable than me might call it 'twisting the knife'.

If Brown recants and follows Fields benefits policies then Field will be happy to see him stay. Otherwise Field is happy to put into play names he thinks would follow his advice.
ie the issue is for "Brown now is to look at his own policy and see that it has in no way lived up to the spin"

Actually, given that both the Nation's and Brown's problems stem from his increasingly discredited policies, that word 'recant' is perhaps the right one to use in respect of what Brown needs to do.

And of course once you take that on board you realise that... well, it ain't goin' to happen.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Geoff Hoon is worried...

I hope this is the end for him in the inevitable cabinet reshuffle.

The Military Wing Of The BBC said...

I'm sick to death of the media running the country.
Nu-Lab from the very start were insipidly inept and incompetent but the broadcast media thought the sun shone out of the government's arse because they had a third rate actor in charge who could shrug and smile and squirm his way out of their mostly fawning questioning.

Take Blair away and now the Broadcast media is clambering for another front man. Same old incompetent government just its now obvious to the media its incompetent because its media presentation is incompetent.

The Tories now have Blair ll and guess what? -the sun shines out of their arse now.

I give up on this country I really do. A french philosopher said that all countries get the government they deserve.
Has England turned into a country of third rate actors?

David Boothroyd said...

With regard to the 1780 Parliament there were, of course, three clear changes of Prime Minister during the term. However in the 18th century the concept of winning a general election conferring a mandate on the Prime Minister personally, or even on their party for winning the most seats, was unknown.

Anonymous said...

chris paul: 11.38

But Major got in this kind of mess....and he got another term now didn't he?

Yeah, it was hell.

Tapestry said...

If battle commences, who knows who might emerge. The commentariat assumes a top-down arrangement by the cabinet. But it's just as possible that a bottom-up result could emanate, with a fresh face. MPs must look at all options, not just a reshuffle of the current lot. The public will want someone new, who gives hope, and who will undo the mistakes that have been made.

Anonymous said...

"The past is another country. But Major was in this kind of mess and losing by-elections and all, and he got another term now didn't he."

You keep thinking that if its a comfort, bless.

But, if you deal with the facts, John Major was not in this kind of mess in the run up to the GE in 1992. In fact all his problems started after that, and continued throughout the next 5 years until the Conservatives were given the political equivalent of a knock out blow by the electorate in 1997.

It should also be noted that in comparison with Brown, Major had political balls of steel, and he was able to take the party just about intact through that defeat before standing down.
I don't think that Brown has the courage to do the same, nor I suspect, does his party have the courage or the inclination to head to the same kind of defeat in full knowledge of the consequences.
The Conservatives did not know that their defeat would be beyond even the wildest estimates, nor that it would take them nearly 10 years to start a recovery.
If they had known what was in store I suspect they might have done things differently.

Labour has the benefit of their experience, and I think that will play a major part in how they act now. But I very much doubt that they would willing sit around for 2 years and await the same fate as their predecessors without trying to stem the political tide.

Anonymous said...

Stop Press:

Brown is going:

justoneglass said...

David Miliband:-

A Bad Livid Mind
A Blind Dim Diva
Bad Dim Invalid

Tamsin Dunwoody:-

Amid Wounds, Tony
Toadyism Down Nu (Labour)
Untidy Sod Woman

Yvette Cooper:-

To Vote Creepy
Covet rope yet

Geoff Hoon:-

Oh, Gone Off!

Des Browne:-

Bored News

Gosh what fun!

Anonymous said...

If it happened it would the responsibility of the media,bloggers,political commentators and ultimately the electorate to make it clear to Labour that it is NOT acceptable to carry on "business as usual" and that they would be required to call an election within 3 months of replacing their leader(and Prime Miniser)to seek a new mandate.

That it itself may may some hesitate from committing "regicide"

Anonymous said...

Firstly- as has been said many times, replacing Brown would be a damage limitation strategy. ie- MP's have to conclude that there is absolutely no chance of them winning under Brown, because changing leader twice - as you say - would ensure defeat.

However - I don't know if the public would be as outraged as you suggest, for the simple fact that they really do dislike Brown so much. Whilst there would certainly be some protest and calls for an election, I don't think it would be on such a mass scale, because people will be so glad to see the back of Brown!

Tapestry said...

Labour should open up, invite any contenders to put their names forward and hold a proper election process to select the new leader, all in the full glare of publicity. No more Buggins' turn.

Anonymous said...

Dear Iain

Please get your blog sorted. Most of the time the Comments will not load, and when they do they are (mostly) extremely slow.

Not a sheep said...

The Viscount Goderich served just short of 5 months from 1827, he resigned from office because he lacked support amongst colleagues

Andrew Bonar Law served just just short of 7 months before retiring due to ill-health in 1923, he died six months after leaving office

The Duke of Devonshire served for 7 and a half months from 1756

The Earl of Shelburne served for just short of 9 months from 1782

The Earl of Bute served for just over 10 months from 1762

Oddly I blogged about this subject last Sunday when I tried to reassure Gordon Brown that, even if he resigned now, he would not be the shortest serving Prime Minister.

Anonymous said...


Labour schism to two new parties, one at centre-left, sort of SDP and the other on the hard left, SWP.

Inside info BTW from a close pal of mine who attended an emergency meeting in Holland on Thursday at HQ of a very big oil company, oil price per barrel will go to 220 USD by December. You heard it here first.

Anonymous said...

I would have thought that the impending ending of the Union is probably morr topical, but relates closely to Labours woes at this time.

They cynically promoted devolution before the 1997 election to woo the Celtic vote in the home nations and to secure their powerbases in Edinburgh and Cardiff. This has backfired, especially in Scotland where watching how the SNP have played Labour is akin to watching a soccer match between Brazil and a pub team.

Should the union dissolve - and more English people now support this, especially given Labours refusal to countenance an English parliment - it will be the death knell of the Labour party, completely and utterly since the safe seats over the borders will have gone.

The English economy will be releived of subsidising Scotland and will be protected from the EU, which continually attacks the UK, via the union / regionalisation agenda.

It is England that is shackled to a corpse...actually three, once NI and Wales are factored in. England should give the EU these three mini-statelets and then withdraw from the EU.

Anonymous said...

Iain, this is possibly the most inane thread you have ever put up. We choose MPs, not Prime Ministers.

You seem to be getting mixed up with America.

Anonymous said...

"Brownite Sources" stating that any attempt by "frightened"backbenchers or "Blairites" to oust Brown will result in them announcing the "Suicide Option" of an immediate General Election to seek a mandate for the new leader from the electorate. In riposte the "Blairites" have said basically "If you think you're tough enough go ahead" as they would prefer that option to delaying 2 years and then seeing only a left wing rump of MPs remaining in Parliament post Election(" I was appalled following our meeting of the 'political cabinet' on Friday Brown is running on empty" - he appears jaded and simply hasn't anything left in the locker regarding ideas or policies to get us out of this mess" ).

Either way it seems Brown is finished as a credible force within both the party and the country. All that remains is for the jackals to fight over the corpse for the right to bury it.

Anonymous said...

Historical precedents and constitutional nicities are all very well (no criticism meant - I'm usually the first to look at them) but we've moved on. Brown's big mistake was not to go to the country and get a mandate in September. His tendency to dither is now always going to be reinforced by his and everyone's underlying feeling that he lacks legitimacy, especially as he did not even face an internal party election. The problem this poses for Labour is that if someone new sidles into No. 10, that feeling will be even stronger. And it would be much harder for a new Labour leader to snatch a mandate in an election today.

Anonymous said...

The correct answer would be 'never before' since the role of Prime Minister was only formalised in law in 1905 when the incumbent was the majestically-named Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. Before that? Hmmmm... I *think* b.c.s. has it with Lord John Russell / Earl of Derby. The Earl of Derby's government fell when his budget was defeated - I wonder if he had tried a novel 'soak the poor' strategy of taxation?

Anonymous said...


Gordon's already got himself a new job!

Anonymous said...

Iain, your asking this question is absolutely astonishing!!

The parliamentary faction that became The Conservative Party was started at a time of constitutional chaos occasioned by such circumstances (albeit way more intense!)
Between the General Elections of 1780 and 1784 the head of the government changed four times!:

General Election 1780

Lord North up to 22 March 1782
The Marquess of Rockingham (27 March 1782 - 1 July 1782)
The Earl of Shelburne (4 July 1782 - 2 April 1783)
The Duke of Portland (2 April 1783 - 19 December 1783)
William Pitt the Younger (19 December 1783 - )

General Election 1784

Indeed, William Hague in his biography of Pitt makes it clear that no general election in the 18th century led to directly to a change of government (or Prime Minister).

Anonymous said...

The PM was a great chancellor, and will be a great PM.
He lost an eye at 16, and despite this managed to to get a double first one year before most ordinary people even pass their degree.
He lost a child, but kept strong through this trauma.
He was put down on my Blair for 12 years and people said he would never get top job but he still got it.
All in all this man's life shows struggle, determination and awesome mental strength and a striking ability to beat unbeatable odds.

People said labour would never defeat to tories after 1992, 5 years later his new labour won with a record stinking majority.

This man faces struggle and wins. He never ever loses, He never ever quits, he never runs from the job, he will win and get rid of the tory wannabe punks.

Anonymous said...

Trevorsden @12.10 am:

I just posted this on Guido's blog:

While trying to figure out Frank Field's sudden surprise support for Gordo, it struck me that his apology to Brown was not motivated by Field being 'got-at', more by some sort of promise for some radical rabbit-from-the-hat reform, perhaps the sequestration of dormant bank accounts to fund welfare/pension reform?

Just the ramblings of a pub-philosopher, but you heard it here first!

David said...

I fail to understand the opinion, vented by almost everyone, that the country in some way 'won't tolerate' a further ministry unvalidated by general election. Is it expected that there will be rioting in the streets? - I hardly think so. Whoever took control would simply need demonstrate that they could command a majority in the Commons. If they could do so, their right to direct Government would be completely constitutional: and if they had the guts to hold their ground, they could withstand (indeed, cock a snook at) any murmurings from the media or the Opposition. They would just need a fist clunkier than Brown's.....

Bill Quango MP said...

For Dirty european Socialist:
Why Gordon just can't hack it.

An excerpt from
Gordon Brown's school days.
by Thomas Hughes

Poor Gordon attends Fettes. The school for Labour 'Toffs' You can trust.

'Head boy' Blair is already there, and doing well. Captain of the cricket team, in the school band, best runner, achiever of exam results without appearing to do any work, head of the debating team, going out with the housemasters daughter.
Good sense of dress, witty and popular, once climbed the chapel tower and was caught by the HM....

All crowded out poor Gordon's own achievements.

Poor 'Swotty' Brown. Studying into the night to get his grades. Not a natural scholar he works hard; far harder than Tony, who seems to breeze his, without actually studying.

Too busy studying and planning to hit the local pubs, or the school dances spends his time reading up on Great Leaders of the Left and Socialist and Marxist/Leninist/Maoist economic policies for a better five year plan.
Socially, he is no match for the populist Blair. Never quite finding the right words to connect with people.
While 'Top Tony' manages to convince people he is talking to them and them alone, Gordon makes people wish he would leave them alone.

Forever the FAG, unpopular, socially awkward, unkempt and unloved. But always plotting. One day.. One day..Clearly he would make a better head Boy than the cavalier Blair.

But Brown's hard work pays off and he rises up the school.
First Milk Monitor, then Hallway Prefect. lunch-tray checker, and dormitory captain. OK its not head boy, but soon ,soon.

And then his chance.

"Debate Day: Should Hanging and Capitol punishment be brought back."

Gordon Brown to challenge Tony Blair.

The whole house will be there. A chance to demonstrate his towering intellect, political acumen, debating and persuasion skills.

Preparing for 30 days for his debate with the Head boy he amasses his figures, prepares reams and reams of relevant data, and prepares his arguments.
Underlining the text.
Highlighting the emphasis. Practising his gestures in the mirror.
Strengthening his vocal chords,
for days and days, almost without sleep. Now is the chance. Now is the moment of destiny

Gordon opens. He marshals his arguments well. Slightly shaky on delivery he uses repetition to force the statistics onto the audience. He shouts, he harangues, he barracks and boasts and bashes the audience.
Pages of documents are held aloft to demonstrate his grasp of the position. Hundreds of pages of his speech are discarded to the floor as he turns over yet more pages, firing statistics at the audience as fast as he can turn them. Hoping to convince the audience by force of argument, rhetoric and with his own outstanding abilities. His eyes shine with triumph.

Two hours later he concedes the podium. shaking from the exertion he smiles. Now is the moment. His performance was masterful. Undeniable facts coupled with convincing argument added to precise solutions. Nothing could beat it. The usual cheeky grin on Blair's face seems a little less beaming.
Brown knows that Tony has been out drinking and smoking and playing Pool the night before. Why he bets he hasn't done any research at all. The big fool is going to try and wing it!

Blair attends the Podium, thanks his opponent and begins.
No notes, no figures, just his own personality to depend upon.

"Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime."

Then Blair sits back down.

Blair wins by a landslide.

Anonymous said...

But it is little known fact that the present leader came up with the slogan "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime". So your argumbnt could actually be converted to a defence of the present boss. In that Blair was just the monkey now we have the organ grinder.

Anonymous said...

This old layout is crap.

The Half-Blood Welshman said...

Not a Sheep got closest, but didn't tell the whole story - the most spectacular was 1827-30

Lord Liverpool (PM 1812-27) - suffers a stroke in early 1827 and after 6 weeks of confusion his wife resigns on his behalf

George Canning (1827) - dies of a cold four months after taking office

Lord Goderich (1827-28) - a weak nonentity appointed by King George IV so the King could rule as an absolute monarch. However, said King bullied him once too often, reduced him to tears after 5 wretched months and immediately sacked him. Famous as the only Prime Minister to date never to meet Parliament.

The Duke of Wellington - lasted until 1830. I think that at that stage there was a general election on the death of George IV, which happened in 1830 just before the Duke's government collapsed.

That's four Prime Ministers in 12 months, and not one of them faced the electorate (and moreover only one of them was in the Commons). So the precedent exists, apart from the 1865-68 period and 1902-05 already raised. However, the entire culture and constitutional arrangement was different - I doubt if any Prime Minister would get away with being elected at two removes now.

Anonymous said... said...
The PM was a great chancellor, and will be a great PM.


Brown should go on external indebtedness alone.
The following figures for External Debt are from the CIA, linked here:

1 United States $12,877,889,ooo,000 Estimated on 31 December 2007
2 United Kingdom $ 11,502,800,ooo,ooo Estimated on Q4 2007
3 Germany $4,489,000,000,000 Estimated on 30 June 2007

No wonder then that Gordon Brown has to rob, eke out and squeeze every penny he is able from the UK citizens all living in a bankrupt country. No wonder he took a sledge hammer to both the poor and the motorists, those least able to escape from his tyranny.

Get rid of him NOW. A few more weeks and the Lisbon Treaty will be ratified without a referendum and withdrawal from the totally corrupt EU (link), which is bleeding Britain dry for zero returns will be impossible ever after. BECAUSE the economic terms for leaving will, post-Lisbon, be set out and imposed by the leeches that have put the country on the death bed where it today expends its dying breath!

How can anybody imagine that Britain, with a mere fifth of the USA population and an even smaller fraction of its GNP, can ever hope to regain solvency after the Brown years while paying the billions and billions extra to the EU as agreed by Tony Blair in his bid to be the first secretly appointed President of the corrupt EU which will be finally permanently established in the Lisbon Treaty.

Paul Davison said...

Although the Parliament of 1935 was unusually long because of the war, it had three changes of Government and two changes of Prime Minister. Stanley Baldwin was the Prime Minister at the General Election. He resigned in 1937 and was replaced by Neville Chamberlain. He resigned in 1940 and was replaced by Winston Churchill. Churchill resigned in May 1945 and was reappointed to form a Conservative government to go into the General Election.

Anonymous said...

OK so lets eliminate the ones who died, the ones who ahd to leave through ill-health then who is left?

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

The Half-Blood Welshman: IIRC Goderich was appointed because he was the Leader in the Lords, and thus had one of the strongest claims to the leadership amongst current government ministers (a lot of the heavy weights including Peel had withdrawn from the government when Canning was appointed).

I don't think any examples before 1867 really count as governments were very much made and unmade on the floor of the Commons. Nor for that matter is it fair to count any Prime Minister who got voted out once the Commons assembled. So the only real peacetime examples are Rosebery and Balfour, but both were succeeded by governments from the other side.

The Half-Blood Welshman said...

Tim Roll-Pickering - yes, Goderich was the leader in the Lords when Canning died, but that did NOT give him a strong claim to the premiership. He had been sent to the Lords as leader precisely to keep him out of the way. Merely because a lot of heavyweights were on the back benches did not leave them out of the running for the top job - for instance, Peel was ruled out because the King hated him, not because he was outside the cabinet. The man with the strongest claim in the 1827 Cabinet would surely have been Huskisson, Canning's de facto deputy, in any case - but George IV knew he couldn't make him do as he wished. I would point out that Wellington was still not in the cabinet when Goderich resigned, holding the rank of commander-in-chief of the army outside the cabinet, and yet was the automatic choice for Prime Minister, not the Leader of the House of Commons (if one was ever appointed). Indeed, there is reason to think that the Cabinet would have preferred Wellington to follow Canning had the King not been so intransigent. The idea that the "Leader of the other House" had an automatic right to succeed in the 1820s is not a tenable one. Not that Wellington was a very happy choice as it turned out either, of course, but these things will happen. Ask any current Labour MP...