The UK political system in the 1850s

(In case anyone’s wondering about the rapid hike in posts, it’s recently been brought to my attention that having two names is frowned-upon, even if it’s only happened because I registered some time ago and have forgotten my log-in details. Tubadiva has set me straight though, and merged my names.)

Wow! Thanks for teaching me something cool today! :slight_smile:

Nitpick: 14th earl, not 18th. And it’s interesting to note that the Act allowing peers to resign their peerages had only just been passed earlier that year. Before then there was no way a hereditary peer could take a seat in the Commons.

What I find interesting, compared to the U.S. system, is that it seems so easy for someone to step into politics at the highest levels and “get” a seat in the House of Commons. I just doesn’t happen in the United States. Hillary Clinton is probably the closest example, but she had to go through quite a bit of traditional politicking before ending up in the Senate. It wasn’t easy.

In the past someone could be parachuted into a seat by giving a peerage to the incumbent, who was prepared to go quietly, and precipitating a by-election. The voters didn’t always like being made a convenience of in this way, and sometimes declined to vote the expected way. (e.g. Patrick Gordon Walker). Nowadays they would give him a Life Peerage in order to bring him into the government

Polycarp, just what was Anthony Eden’s malady in 1957? All the stuff I’ve read about the Suez Crisis and its aftermath is very ambiguous and genteel. Do you think he broke under the strain and actually had a nervous breakdown, as I’ve seen suggested?

A bit of a tangent, but a very interesting episode from Australian history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_constitutional_crisis_of_1975

This thread has brought home to me yet again that egad, I love British politics and history!

Happens in the USA, too.

Here in Minnesota, Republican Governors have picked out Democratic incumbents in closely divided districts, and appointed them as Commissioner (much higher paying job) or as a Judge (also higher paying, and in effect a lifetime job). Then they resign, and their open seat is filled in a special election (which have lower turnout, and that tends to benefit Republican candidates).

Anthony Eden’s Illness .As you can see it was cholangitis, an abdominal infection. This was caused by a bungling surgeon, made worse by the prescribed drugs he was taking.

But in all practicality this cannot be used as a vehicle to get a national party leader – a specific individual, not just a random fellow party member – a seat in the legislature for the specific purpose of granting him or her a leadership position.

The British situation would be akin to the House Democrats first deciding that they want Jerry Brown as their speaker, then persuading a U.S. representative from California to resign and only then jiggering an election that basically guarantees Brown’s getting elected. In theory, it’s possible, but it just is not going to happen like that.

Depends what you mean by representative. Back then, individual MPs had much more power within their parties, and the PM correspondingly less - the term “first among equals” was amuch more accurate description of the PM’s position then.

Now, the party structure and the PM are much stronger than the MPs.

so, if you mean “representative” to mean that you vote for a party and its leader, then the current system is more representative. But if “representative” means the local MPs have considerable authority at Westminster, then the older system was arguably more representative.

I meant representative of the people. By and large when we vote in a general election we (maybe I’m alone in this) have a thought to who’s likely to end up as PM, so one could argue that to some degree the PM is elected to the post.

<Aside>I can’t think that I’m the only one really fed up with the imminent ‘coronation’ of Gordon Brown: IMHO if they’re not going to have a proper contest for the leadership of the Labour Party they should hold a general election. I know that in theory we elect the party rather than the individual, and Brown clearly has the mandate from the party, but the fact is that Blair was (for better or worse) elected for what he called a full-term.</Aside>

In the period I’m talking about, most MPs seemed appointed by whomever happened to control the voting: Gladstone was offered a constituency by Lord Lincoln in 1832 and entered Parliament in 1833 (at least according to The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs Disraeli by Richard Aldous, the book that precipitated this discussion).

So not only were there no real elections to speak of, but even assuming that one voted for a candidate on the basis of some sort of manifesto (which as far as I can tell didn’t happen anyway), there appears to be no guarantee that they would stick to it (e.g. Disraeli’s proctectionism u-turn). However, this leads on to the whole point now about voting with the government: to what extent should MPs be able to vote with their conscience/ the views of their constituents (and against the Government and their party)? If they always voted their own way, it may represent the people more accurately, but given that a manifesto covering all potential issues would be impossible to produce and discuss during a campaign, how would one know what policies one was voting for?

Just thought it would be pertinent to note that at this precise moment the UK has no Prime Minister. Mr Blair has tendered his resignation to the Queen, and Mr Brown is soon to make his way to Buckingham Palace.

Maybe someone can waylay him and force an election?!

They should have shared the same car to reduce their carbon footprint.

After he’s had 10 years of waiting, I would’t like to be the man blocking his way!

Well the atmosphere would be pretty frosty inside the car… :slight_smile:

There was general agreement that the franchise should be restricted to those who could be trusted to exercise it responsibly. Not the mob, who would vote themselves bread and circuses. Even the 1832 Reform Act made only a modest extension in the franchise and it wasn’t until the 1880s that universal [male] suffrage was accepted.