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Old March 1st, 2018, 10:40 PM   #1
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1860s British Parliament: MPs and Prime Minister


I am currently rather struggling with Walter Bagehot and his book 'The British Constitution'. In it he says that MPs voted in their choice of possible prime ministers - but they could also get rid of them. What did he mean by this? How did they have the capacity to get rid of them?

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Old March 1st, 2018, 11:13 PM   #2

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Are you referring to the Motion of no confidence?
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Old March 2nd, 2018, 12:24 AM   #3
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British Prime Ministers (PMs) have served for as little as 3 months and as long as 18 years continuously (if you don't count Walpole who, as first PM, was an exception). They may serve more than one noncontinuous term(s). They serve as long as they have the confidence of the House of Commons. (The House of Lords no longer plays a significant role in government). "Confidence" means the the majority of the House supports the government. A vote of "no confidence" means a majority no longer support the government. In the UK the this usually means Parliament is dissolved and elections are called. However the party in power may replace the PM without an election (Margaret Thatcher). In many countries the government may stay in power as "caretaker" until the election result is known. In the UK, new elections must be called after a government has served five years continuously in office.

The UK has generally had two major parties in the 20th and 21st century, one being in power at any given time. Coalition governments are rare in the UK but common in other countries (Germany for example).

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Old March 2nd, 2018, 12:49 AM   #4
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Thank you very much HistoryMarche and Steve for responding.

I am asking this question from a position of great ignorance! I think I understand how the system works nowadays.... The decision (nowadays) always seem to come from the Prime Minister. She either calls for a parliamentary vote to get a snap election, or she calls for a no confidence motion in her own government.

I don't understand (& please forgive my ignorance about this), how MPs behaviour could force a PM to do these things, unless a lot of the MPs from her own party voted against her on a very important issue.

Extrapolating from this...in the 19th century, when MPs were much less tied to party lines, perhaps it was much more likely that there could be a majority voting against the prime minister.

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Old March 2nd, 2018, 01:34 AM   #5
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The Monarch selects the Prime Minister, normally inviting the leader of the largest party, though parties in the 19th century weren't always sop formal, normally the Monarch acts under advise from his prime minster, the British monarch is constrained by long custom, thoughts 19th century it was marginally less so. ut if the 'new' prime minster loses a vote in the house of commons he normally resigns. In this period were not clear cut majorities, but coalition of groups,. the leader son the parties would met and decide who they would support and recommend it to the monarch who when the ask that politician to form Government. The individual Maos can express their opinion to the partoy leaders about who they would or would not support, but Generally it wasn't done, the leaders normally had a fair feel for this.

SO the leading MPs of the coalition of parties with a workable majority in parliament work out informally who is to lead the government and advise the monarch who the invites that person to form a government, if they got it wrong and they lose they vote of confidence on the floor of the commons, they resign. (pretty hypertherotically)

Early in the 19th century the monarch may have nominated without advise on some occasions (I think someone feel free to correct me), but it would not be accepted unless the person was sure they had the overall backing of the commons.

It's all a bit unspoken sort vibe rather than a real formal process.

Late 19th century early 20th there were some pretty radical realignments of MPS, with parties splitting on single issues, Home Rule for Ireland, and Free Trade. They were some powerful political mavericks, whose person following, power made them able to act large, Joe Chamberlain, David Lloyd George , Winston Churchill,

There were three ,major parties Conservatives, Liberal and Labour.
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Old March 2nd, 2018, 01:39 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Caroline 5 View Post
Thank you very much HistoryMarche and Steve for responding.

I am asking this question from a position of great ignorance! I think I understand how the system works nowadays.... The decision (nowadays) always seem to come from the Prime Minister. She either calls for a parliamentary vote to get a snap election, or she calls for a no confidence motion in her own government.

I don't understand (& please forgive my ignorance about this), how MPs behaviour could force a PM to do these things, unless a lot of the MPs from her own party voted against her on a very important issue.

Extrapolating from this...in the 19th century, when MPs were much less tied to party lines, perhaps it was much more likely that there could be a majority voting against the prime minister.
It's a good question. David Cameron resigned after the Brexit vote, but the Conservative party stays in power. As far as I know, recent elections have been called by the party in power to improve their position. Thatcher was very good at this and served for 12 years continuously. In fact I'm not sure when the last no confidence vote took place in the UK. I believe Edward Heath lost an election after some scandals.
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Old March 2nd, 2018, 01:42 AM   #7
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Thank you Steve.

In fact it is not the current system that I am trying to find out about, (I agree with what you say about current elections), but rather how, in the 19th century, MPs were able to make prime ministers resign - as Bagehot has said they did in his book "The English Constitution" which was written in 1860. I'm curious as to how they had this power over prime ministers....

Last edited by Caroline 5; March 2nd, 2018 at 02:08 AM.
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Old March 2nd, 2018, 01:48 AM   #8

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Quote:
Originally Posted by stevev View Post
In fact I'm not sure when the last no confidence vote took place in the UK. I believe Edward Heath lost an election after some scandals.
I think it was Callaghan in '79. Could be wrong though
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Old March 2nd, 2018, 01:51 AM   #9

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Caroline 5 View Post
Thank you Steve.

In fact it is not the current system that I am trying to find out about, (I agree with what you say about current elections), but rather how, in the 19th century, MPs were able to make prime ministers resign - as Bagehot has said they did in his book "The English Constitution" which was written in 1860. I'm curious as to how the had this power over prime ministers....
I just googled to confirm that my reply to Stevev was correct, but maybe this link might be useful to you. It's a list of UK votes of no confidence. Perhaps by looking at votes in the 19th century you might start from there in your research.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_o...sh_governments
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Old March 2nd, 2018, 02:02 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Caroline 5 View Post
Thank you Steve.

In fact it is not the current system that I am trying to find out about, (I agree with what you say about current elections), but rather how, in the 19th century, MPs were able to make prime ministers resign - as Bagehot has said they did in his book "The English Constitution" which was written in 1860. I'm curious as to how the had this power over prime ministers....
I'm curious too. Who gave Bagehot the right to make law?. I'm sure the young Queen Victoria would have had the same question in 1839. The fact is, Parliament is supreme. The "Constitution" is what Parliament says it is, not Bagehot. If a monarch tries to steal too much power (as determined by Parliament), it has a range of options, from reducing the Civil List income all the way to replacing the monarch or termination of the monarchy.

Parliament makes the rules for itself as well. As you say, the party system was less rigid then. You had Whigs, Tories, Peelites and Radicals which were evolving to the two party Liberals and Conservatives by the end of the 19th century. Victoria reigned during 20 changes of government for an average of about three years for each one. Also the House of Lords had more power then, until it was broken during the reign of Edward VII.

Last edited by stevev; March 2nd, 2018 at 02:25 AM.
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