There’s a fascinating article by Camilla Cavendish in today’s Times in which the pros and cons of a presidential style of leadership could be applied to the British electoral system. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a real cabinet government, I think you could maybe argue that Sir John Major had one – but that was through his acknowledged electoral weaknesses and the disintegrating Tory party rather than by choice. Thatcher, Blair and Brown have all lead from the front: it’s been their ethos, their vision that have defined for better or worse the direction of the nation.
So would we be better voting for a leader and an office and having the checks and balances of an upper and lower house deciding – would it encourage real people with life experience to stand up and be part of our political system, or would it encourage dynasties of politically elite families? I’m not sure. What I do know is that the public haven’t voted for a party for a long time: I voted for Blair or Thatcher is what you hear on the doorstep, you don’t hear the parties and most people couldn’t name the cabinet or shadow cabinet, let alone assign the departments to the people.
The TV debates of this General Election have in my opinion put the final nail in the coffin of Cabinet government, the final swirl of confusion between the party and the person if you like – and maybe it’s time to acknowledge that with a change of system? I’m not sure it’d make any difference; if the American system is anything to go by the political class in the UK wouldn’t have the patience to put up with lame ducks, filibustering, and shady deals done behind closed doors – but then, with the amount of political apathy that seems to be on display between those that aren’t tied to their tribal camp, you have to wonder whether anyone would really notice a change.