LONDON (AP) — Observers of Britain’s governing structure can be forgiven for scratching their heads in recent weeks as the country lurches through a succession of prime ministers without holding elections. While the opposition Labor Party is demanding elections, the ruling Conservatives are pushing to choose another prime minister from their own ranks, which they are entitled to because of the way Britain’s parliamentary democracy works.
THE BRITISH NEVER REALLY VOTE FOR THEIR PRIME MINISTER
Britain is divided into 650 local constituencies, and people tick a box for the representative they want to become their local member of parliament, or MP. In most cases, you will be a member of one of the main political parties in the country.
The party that wins the most seats forms a government and the leader of that party automatically becomes prime minister. While coalitions are possible, Britain’s voting system favors the two largest parties, and in most cases a single party will win an outright majority of seats, as is the case with the Conservatives in the current parliament.
HOW DO PARTIES CHOOSE THEIR LEADERS?
Since 1922, all 20 Prime Ministers of Great Britain have come from either the Labor Party or the Conservative Party. This means that the members of these parties have a great deal of influence over who will be the prime minister of the country. The processes the parties use to elect them can seem Byzantine.
Deep breath: For the Conservative Party, its lawmakers must first signal their support for a potential leader. If there is enough support, this person will become an official candidate. Then all Conservative MPs cast a series of votes, gradually reducing the number of candidates to two. Finally, the ordinary members of the party, about 180,000 of them, vote between these two candidates. Last time they chose Liz Truss over Rishi Sunak.
If MPs can unite behind a single candidate, then there is no need for the broader members of the party to have a vote. The latter happened in 2016 when lawmakers backed Theresa May after David Cameron resigned and she automatically became prime minister. This could happen again.
The Labor Party has its own process which is possibly even more complicated.
BUT BRITAIN DIDN’T VOTE FOR BORIS JOHNSON IN 2019?
Johnson was elected by his party after the resignation of Theresa May. He had already been prime minister for five months when voters marked their ballots in December 2019. However, voter support for the Conservative Party cemented his position as prime minister.
Even in that election, however, only around 70,000 people had the opportunity to vote directly for or against Johnson, those who lived in his parliamentary constituency of Ruislip and South Uxbridge, west London.
Since then, another prime minister, Liz Truss, has come and gone, and one more will be in office at the end of next week, all without anyone bothering the general electorate.
WILL THERE BE A GENERAL ELECTION SOON?
Constitutionally, a general election in Britain is not required for another two years. But as prime ministers come and go, handpicked by a small proportion of the population, many Britons are beginning to wonder why they don’t get a chance to influence who their next leader is. The clamor for a general election in the near future is likely to grow louder.