“Constructing a Humanist Politics”


Issue No 11 Friday 14 November 2008



This week

·        “A British Equivalent Of Barack Obama Would Find It Extremely Difficult To Become Prime Minister.” But The Problem Is The Constitution Not The Voters


News Stories

Highlighting  news stories important to the Civic Republican view, particularly those that are overlooked or little covered in the main media.


·        “A British Equivalent Of Barack Obama Would Find It Extremely Difficult To Become Prime Minister.” But The Problem Is The Constitution Not The Voters


Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the UK equality watchdog, told the Times that a British equivalent of Barack Obama would find it extremely difficult to become prime minister. He claimed even someone of Mr Obama's talent would struggle because the system was biased against change.

Mr Philips said the problem would not be voters but the political "machine". He did not think the public "would be at all resistant to electing a black prime minister”.

"My point is that it's very difficult for people who don't fit a certain mould - and that is to do with gender, it's to do with race and it's to do with class - to find their way into the outer reaches."

Whereas accusations of prejudice against black candidates are always difficult to substantiate the more important point that is essential to Mr Philips statement in The Times is that the problem would not be voters but the political machines.

In fact the political machines of the parties create all sorts of problems in British politics and this results from the simple fact that they have too much power, too much control. The reason why this is the case springs not from the nature of the parties themselves but from our constitution.

With our parliamentary system, our leader is not chosen by the people directly, as is the case in a presidential republic such as the United States. The parties select who they wish to have as their leader and the electorate only has the choice of the selected party leaders.

In a presidential republic the leader (the President) is elected separately from the legislature (Parliament or Congress). The people exercise a DIRECT choice over the leader.

The United States goes even farther than this with the system of “primary” elections whereby those voters, who are registered in the individual States as supporters of a particular party, vote in the “primaries” for the candidate they want. We saw how Democrat voters chose Obama over Hilary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. The primary system introduces a further element of choice by the people.

Imagine a British political party inviting the people who habitually vote for that party to have a say in choosing the leader!! Whether the British Republic should have the primary system is a different matter. It would ultimately be down to individual parties to decide on this. However, if one party decided to test its presidential candidate in “primaries", it could well give it an advantage.

Stuck as we are for the time being with a parliamentary constitutional monarchy, we are a long way from being able to make this sort of choice.

Mr Philips did not intend to make an argument for a presidential system, but this is exactly what he did without recognizing it.

The Sunday Telegraph leader on 9th November 2008 got it right when it said “Mr Obama's election to the top political job in America is both an inspiration and a challenge to change. We hope that a candidate of Obama's quality will soon emerge in Britain”

But it was surely wrong to say “A candidate who demonstrated the outstanding ability of Mr Obama would surely be fawned over by all three major parties in Britain”.

The ST added “And [Mr Obama] would be at least as big a hit with the British electorate as Mr Obama has been in America.”  That may well be true.

But we will never see it happening until we have a presidential republican constitution.


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…….Until next week