‘Not My Prime Minister’: Do our Electoral Systems Fit Popular Opinion?

1st October 2019

Just 92,153 voters elected the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Standing at approximately 0.13 percent of the British population, this result cannot be claimed to reflect popular opinion, only that of roughly two thirds of the Conservative Party. In an understandable backlash, this has led to many a cry of ‘not my Prime Minster’. Many have cited Johnson’s previous racial remarks and broken promises in the form of a so-called Brexit bus as reasons they are uncomfortable with the newest resident of Number Ten.

Whilst Mr Johnson’s ethics are questionable, the legality of his becoming Prime Minister is not.

Yet it feels important to ask, are protests teeming with banners reading ‘not my Prime Minister’ really making the right complaints? Whilst Mr Johnson’s ethics are questionable,
the legality of his becoming Prime Minister is not. Johnson joins the likes of Theresa May and Gordon Brown in gaining the role through a change of leadership, not a general election. As explained by the UK Parliament, the PM is ‘the leader of the party that wins the most seats in a general election’, so they are not obliged to win this election as leader. Rather than stripping Johnson of his newly acquired title, it may be more apt to question the political system that allows us to welcome new leaders of the country in such a way.

Rather than stripping Johnson of his newly acquired title, it may be more apt to question the political system that allows us to welcome new leaders of the country in such a way.

As equally illustrated by the United States in the election of Donald Trump, an election itself does not prevent argument. The ‘not my President’ movement was supported by the knowledge that Hillary Clinton received almost 2.9 million more votes than her opponent, yet was let down by an electoral system that does not account for the popular vote overall.

In both countries the situation is larger than the politicians at the centre. In fact, Johnson and May are arguably victims of the system themselves, both calling or desiring to call general elections to avoid accusations surrounding their lack of a mandate. But as evidenced by the United States, elections do not always appease democratic appetites…

Replace those words with ‘not my electoral system’ and the implications are different.

Declarations of ‘not my Prime Minister’ in a democratic nation holding free and fair elections, or in a country that abides by its own political principles, feel uncomfortable. They appear to overlook the nations for whom the opportunity for choice seems fictional, or our ancestors who just one hundred years ago had still not all been granted electoral rights. Replace those words with ‘not my electoral system’ and the implications are different. This statement reflects the discontentment and lack of representation that many understandably feel at Johnson’s appointment, without exuding complacency.

Informing Boris Johnson that he is not your Prime Minister may not open many doors, but drawing his attention to the failing electoral system just might.

By Jenny Pavitt

Image by June Purkiss