Truss and any Conservative successor need democratic legitimacy

There’s no doubt that our politics has reached a new low. We have a prime minister who is out of her depth or has poor fiscal ability, all set against a backdrop of a policy merry go round.

Truss’ resignation was the right thing for the nation, and her legacy will become a blurred footnote on a page of history.

But here’s the problem.

It would be totally wrong to force another prime minister on the country without the consent of the British people. It would be difficult for the new prime minister to deny any accusations about their legitimacy.


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We live in a democratic parliamentary system, not a presidential one. Prime minister is the leader of any party with a majority in Parliament. When a prime minister resigns mid-term, the governing party’s leader becomes prime minister.

There is logic to this.

Yet when a new prime minister diverges so wildly from the manifesto and vision that their party was elected on, shouldn’t we question this mode of governance?

Rather than mirror the Australian system, in which prime ministers and party leaders are subject to an almost constant churn, shouldn’t we take time to look at alternatives?

The British prime minister is a powerful figure. However, he does not have a direct mandate from the people. He only has an indirect mandate from general elections.

The case to repair the gap between voters and leaders is strengthened when the party leader is reelected mid-parliament.

Going forward, the minimum reform would be to legislate that a parliamentary election takes place when a new party leader becomes prime minister-elect. This happens in other parliamentary democracies – even within the UK. When Alex Salmond resigned as Scotland’s first minister in 2014, Nicola Sturgeon was directly elected by Members of the Scottish Parliament. This mechanism would give any new prime minister some parliamentary legitimacy by being adopted at Westminster.

But what about legitimacy from people?

I have previously written about the system in Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada.  When a premier (the Canadian equivalent to prime minister or first Minister) resigns, a countdown starts for an early election. Within one year, a new vote must be called.

Here lies thedemocratic  solution to the ‘new prime minister’ problem at Westminster.

Legislation allowing for an automatic election to be triggered, within six months or one year of a prime Ministerial change, would address issues of legitimacy.

It is already unlikely that Liz Truss will lead her party to the next election in the case Liz Truss. The parliamentary conservative party is known for being ruthless when it comes to leaders who don’t fit the bill, regardless of whether she is quickly replaced or continues on.

However, it seems unlikely that a new prime Minister will be elected to democratic legitimacy.

Truss or her successor will delay an election until the Conservative party trails by 36% in polls from earlier this Week.

The Truss (or her successors’) ministry may for now claim parliamentary legitimacy, but it lacks a public mandate, and is under no internal party pressure to seek one.

This deficit in democratic legitimacy only makes it more compelling for the UK’s reform of its election rules.