GE2015 minus 31: electoral skills, and who might have them

Posted: 6 April 2015 in comics, general election 2015, politics
Tags: , , ,

When I started this countdown to the 2015 general election, I wrote that while most of the entries would be about the forthcoming election, there’d be the occasional entry that wasn’t. The one about Doctor Who was one of them. This is another, kind of. Well, it is about the British political system, kind of. And it’s not at all… kind of.

You’ll see.

There are times when I’m honest enough to admit that I envy of the American political system. As a Brit, I admire the fact that America has a written constitution, or to be more precise, a single codified document entitled: “The Constitution”. I like the separation of powers, the checks and balances, that permeate the American electoral system, although I remain gently puzzled as to why anyone still supports the polite fiction that is the electoral college.

However, what I’m most jealous of Americans right now is that they don’t have an election in a month, so can quietly ignore all the speculation for another year or so. .

One of the more amusing aspects from over here for an admitted politics junkie and comic book reader, watching the preparation for the American elections are the comics websites and columnists who take a look at various comic book characters and identify which candidates, in the writer’s opinion, the characters would vote for. And in, some cases, which comic book characters the writer would vote for as President. It happens every four years or so. Indeed, in 2004, Tony Isabella polled his readers with the question:

“Which comics character would you vote for as President of the United States?”

Tony’s first choice, by the way, would have been Jefferson Pierce, Black Lightning. Pierce came in fourth in the voters picks though, the top three being, in order: Barbara Gordon, Reed Richards, and Charles Xavier. Of course, that was before the first was rebooted as part of the New 52, the second started blowing up planets to save the Earth and the third was, you know, murdered. 

Since we’re in the middle of the British general election campaign though, it occurred to me that a similar poll, even if it wasn’t limited to British comic book super-heroes, wouldn’t work; the skills necessary to run for election as the head of government in a parliamentary system are wildly different from those required in a presidential system.

Given that, in theory anyway, anyone can run for President (what’s that line about “In America, anyone can become President… that’s the risk you take”?) there are a set of specific political skills that are needed, as well as shedloads of money, and in today’s politics, an ability to appeal to the base when getting the nomination, and everyone else when you are the nominee.

But in the UK, a parliamentary system, you need a whole other set of political skills to get to be Prime Minister. For a start, you need to be the head of a political party, which will likely entail being part of the process for twenty years plus, and having been elected half a dozen times to Parliament, climbing the greasy pole each time.

Not only that, but you have to be elected as head of the party by not only the party membership, but also, depending upon the political party, your fellow Members of Parliament, and possibly the trade unions.

For example, under the current system, after the resignation of the previous leader of the Labour Party after he lost the 2010 election, a number of Members of Parliament stood for the leadership. Of the five, only one was a back-bencher and even she had been a minister at one point. The other four had all served in Brown’s Cabinet  and had been members of parliament for years…

But since the majority of people reading this are American, let’s take a look at the current Prime Minister, David Cameron.

After some years as a “Special Advisor”, he first ran for office in 1997. He didnt win, but he was back in 2001, and was first elected as a Conservative Party Member of Parliament in that year, the year in which Labour won its second term in office under Tony Blair. Cameron’s party lost that election, as they did the next one as well, but he was elected as MP for the constituency of Witney. He almost immediately served on the Home Affairs Committee. Because his party was in opposition, any front bench position (so called because the MP addresses the house from the front bench) is called a ‘shadow’ spokesman. From 2003, he was a shadow minister in the Privy Council Office and was in 2004 appointed front bench spokesman for local government, and in the same year became a member of the shadow Cabinet. After the 2005 election, he held the portfolio of Shadow Secretary of State for Education, but only briefly, as he then ran for – and gained – the leadership of his party. And in each of those positions, he was facing his opposite in the House of Commons during debates and questions. And this merely increased when, in 2010, he became Prime Minister.

So he’s faced a number of internal party appointments, and had been actually elected to the House of Commons in two general elections (2001 and 2005) before he became Leader, after which his party got the largest number of seats in the 2010 election.

And as the leader of the largest party after a general election, he moved into Number 10 Downing Street a few days after the election, as soon as he could command a majority. None of this “getting elected, and then not taking office for two months” for us…

So his political skills involved facing not only the public in a general election campaign, but facing his political opponents in the House of Commons answering questions and in debate pretty much every week the House of Commons sat for almost a decade before he became Prime Minister. (Both his predecessors as Prime Minister -Blair and Brown had even longer to prepare, Blair over a decade and Brown fifteen years)

[So, I’m not entirely sure when any of them would have found time to be a super-hero, by the way.]

Certainly a different set of skills from that required to run as President, I think you’d agree. Note that I don’t say a better or worse set of skills, merely a different set.

Especially since a parliamentary system doesn’t have any element of “The President Proposes and Congress Disposes”. With a decent working majority, The Prime Minister and his executive can do pretty much anything they like.

What’s interesting is that under our political system, you don’t have to be a British citizen to stand for election to parliament. To become a Member of Parliament a person must be 21 or more years old and be a British citizen, a citizen of another Commonwealth country or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland. So Steve Rogers/Captain America could never stand for Parliament, but Sean Cassidy/Banshee could. You do, however, have to swear allegiance to the monarchy if you get elected in order to take your seat in the house, by the way, which is one reason why Sinn Fein MPs, despite being elected, never taken their seats…

But leaving aside that requirement for a moment, it does occur to me to wonder which characters from comic books could handle the political skills required under our system.

Well, what springs to mind, given the number of hustings and elections a person would have to go to, is that the person would need a skill, talent or power that involves convincing a large number of people at one time… and the problem is that all the characters I can think of who’d do that… are villains. And they’d likely not have the patience to wait around for the decades necessary, now, would they?

Zebediah Killgrave, The Purple Man is the first that I think of. Apart from anything else, he could persuade the authorities that he is a British citizen, and so pass the first hurdle. He could then persuade the Leader of the party to resign, and thence convince his fellow MPs and fellow constituents to vote him in as party leader. OK, he’s just circumvented 20 years. He then gets the Prime Minister to call a general election, and bingo. Could he then persuade the electorate?

Sure – after all, in Emperor Doom (1987), written by David Michelinie and drawn by Bob Hall and Keith Williams, Doctor Doom used Killgrave’s power to conquer the Earth. The UK? Wouldn’t take him long.

I know what you’re thinking – the British Electorate would never take anyone seriously who had colour that weird.

And of course, you’re right… as the orange skinned Robert Kilroy Silk discovered quite some time ago…

Back tomorrow with something a tad more serious.

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