LONDON (AP) — Observers in Britain’s governing body can be forgiven for scratching their heads over the past few weeks as Britain rocks after a series of prime ministers without elections. While Labor is demanding elections, conservatives in the ruling party have the right to choose another prime minister from within their ranks, given the way Britain’s parliamentary democracy works.
Brits never actually vote for prime minister
The UK is divided into 650 local constituencies and people check the boxes of delegates who want to become MPs. In most cases, this will be a member of one of the country’s major political parties.
The party that wins the majority of seats forms the government, and the leader of that party automatically becomes the prime minister. Coalitions are possible, but Britain’s voting system favors her two major parties, and in most cases one party will have an absolute majority of seats, as is the case with the Conservatives in the current parliament.
How do parties choose leaders?
Since 1922, all 20 of Britain’s prime ministers have been from the Labor or Conservative Party. This means that members of these parties have a tremendous amount of influence over who becomes prime minister of the country. The process parties use to select them may seem Byzantine.
Take a deep breath: Conservative MPs should first voice their support for a potential leader. With enough support, this person becomes the official candidate. All Conservative MPs then held a series of ballots, gradually reducing the number of candidates to her two. Finally, the party’s regular members (about 180,000) vote between these two candidates of hers. Last time I chose her Liz Truss over Rishi Sunak.
If members of parliament can unite in support of one candidate, there is no need for the wider party to vote. The last time this happened was in 2016, when MPs backed Theresa May after David Cameron’s resignation, making her automatically Prime Minister. This could happen again.
Labor has its own process, perhaps even more complicated.
But didn’t Britain vote for Boris Johnson in 2019?
Johnson was elected by the party following the resignation of Theresa May. He had already been Prime Minister for five months when voters ticked their ballots in December 2019.
But even in that election, only about 70,000 people actually got the chance to vote directly for Johnson — those who happened to live in the parliamentary constituencies of South Ruislip and Uxbridge in west London.
Since then, other Prime Ministers, Liz Truss, have come and gone, and another is due to take office by the end of next week.
Is there a general election soon?
The constitution does not require a general election in the UK for another two years. But with prime ministers elected by a small fraction of the population coming and going, many Britons are beginning to wonder why they don’t get the chance to influence the next leader. In the near future, it is highly likely that calls for a general election will grow even louder.
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