Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, May 07, 2010

As close to politics as necessary and as far as possible

The British monarch, we all know from a sentence in our textbooks, is a figurehead. No power, no independent political action, no political influence, etc. Here's how close the monarch comes to politics and what's done to maintain the separation.

The Queen and a hung Parliament
The Queen is the only person who can invite someone to form a government and to become prime minister.

But that does not mean that the monarch can exercise any personal discretion over the choice of No 10's occupant.

After a general election, the Queen is obliged, by long-established convention, to invite the person who seems most likely to command the confidence of the House of Commons to become prime minister and to form a government.

If the outcome of that election is inconclusive, it is for the political parties to determine who that person is, and to communicate that choice to Buckingham Palace.

Only then will the Queen receive any outgoing prime minister to accept his resignation and, a short time later, to invite someone else to take his place.

The one thing that can be said with certainty amid all the uncertainty of a hung parliament is that Buckingham Palace is determined to maintain a distance from the political process and to keep the Queen well away from the discussions about who is in the strongest position to command the confidence of the Commons…

But what happens if the politicians simply cannot decide who has the strongest claim to become prime minister?…

The Queen will watch how things unfold. Her senior advisers will be in close contact with the cabinet secretary who, under the most recent Civil Service protocols, is permitted to assist the political parties to come to a decision about how to proceed.

Once they have done that, the motorcade(s) will make their way to the Palace and Elizabeth II will invite someone to form a government.

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