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PostPosted: Fri Jun 09, 2017 9:59 am 
Sumerul
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Can anyone explain why a CON+DUP coalition would mean a softer Brexit?

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 09, 2017 10:14 am 
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The saddest thing about this whole thing is probably the hordes of people on the internet who are saying that the young people who voted for Corbyn only did so because he promised to scrap tuition fees, with some even going so far as to say that "young people who voted Labour shouldn't be allowed to vote at all" *sigh* this mix of arrogance and pettiness among British Conservatives really depresses me.

Viktor77 wrote:
Can anyone explain why a CON+DUP coalition would mean a softer Brexit?


My intuition is that it won't.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 09, 2017 10:38 am 
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Frislander wrote:
Viktor77 wrote:
Can anyone explain why a CON+DUP coalition would mean a softer Brexit?


My intuition is that it won't.


I've been reading all over that people are predicting a softer Brexit now but no one is explaining why. Even if it doesn't happen, why would a softer Brexit be a possibility of a CON+DUP coalition?

Also, one other question I have to ask. Can the DUP even vote on English issues? The EVEL bill says NI and Scottish parties can't vote on English issues.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 09, 2017 1:05 pm 
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Viktor77 wrote:
I've been reading all over that people are predicting a softer Brexit now but no one is explaining why. Even if it doesn't happen, why would a softer Brexit be a possibility of a CON+DUP coalition?


Because the DUP don't want a hard border with Ireland. Currently there are no border checks at all.

If May doesn't allow free movement at all, it's hard to see how this continues to be the case. But the DUP link should make it harder for her to just go into the negotiations placing a hard border there.

Quote:
Also, one other question I have to ask. Can the DUP even vote on English issues? The EVEL bill says NI and Scottish parties can't vote on English issues.


Shouldn't be a problem: if my math is correct, the Tories have an absolute majority within England: 298 of 533 seats (56%).


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 09, 2017 1:14 pm 
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Frislander wrote:
linguoboy wrote:
I guess the one to keep his seat was Bercow, who will stay on as Speaker?

No he's a Conservative. The Independent seat is Down North in Northern Ireland.

I'm even more confused by your mad parliamentary system now. The very second line of his Wikipedia article is:
Quote:
Prior to his election to Speaker, he was a member of the Conservative Party.
And on the Economist's interactive page for election results, his constituency of SE Buckingham is coloured grey, not blue, and his 65,1% of the vote is labeled "OTHER".


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 09, 2017 4:41 pm 
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Also, May campaigned for a hard Brexit, and the loss of seats could be interpreted as a rejection of that plan.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 09, 2017 4:54 pm 
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linguoboy wrote:
I'm even more confused by your mad parliamentary system now. The very second line of his Wikipedia article is:

Well, he's formally not a CON member anymore, but for the purposes of making nice graphs he's counted as one.

Quoth bbc.com:

The Speaker of the House of Commons is an MP and has to stand for re-election as Speaker in his, or her, constituency at every general election.

[…]

The Speaker is a neutral figure in Parliament, so Mr Bercow is no longer a member of the Conservative Party as he was before his election to the role (by parliament).

However, for the purposes of calculating the number of seats belonging to each party - and calculating those held, gained or lost by each party - Mr Bercow's seat is regarded as being a Conservative constituency, as he won it for the party in 1997, 2001 and 2005 before being elected speaker.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 09, 2017 5:07 pm 
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linguoboy wrote:
Frislander wrote:
linguoboy wrote:
I guess the one to keep his seat was Bercow, who will stay on as Speaker?

No he's a Conservative. The Independent seat is Down North in Northern Ireland.

I'm even more confused by your mad parliamentary system now. The very second line of his Wikipedia article is:
Quote:
Prior to his election to Speaker, he was a member of the Conservative Party.
And on the Economist's interactive page for election results, his constituency of SE Buckingham is coloured grey, not blue, and his 65,1% of the vote is labeled "OTHER".


The party status of the Speaker is ambiguous.

On the one hand, IIRC they are elected just as "Joe Bloggs, Speaker", not as "Joe Bloggs, Conservative Party". And in most regards they can be treated as independent - they are expected to carry out their duties in a non-partisan way, and as they do not vote they cannot be counted as government votes [they can cast casting votes when the House is tied, but their vote is largely predetermined by established conventions, with little room to favour one party or another]. So, traditionally, they are considered independent.

However! They do come from one party. What's more, in terms of seat calculations, Speakers do, as it were, retain a shadow of their party affiliation, because they are counterbalanced by deputies from the other party. The Chairman of Ways and Means and his two deputies, who act as deputies to the Speaker, stand as party politicians, but are impartial in the commons. The Chairman is of the opposite party to the party from which the Speaker was drawn (and there's one Deputy from each of the two parties). So if you count the current Speaker as Tory you just have to say "subtract two seats from each party because they're required to be impartial". But if you count the Speaker as independent, you have to say "subtract one seat from the Tories, and then two seats from Labour, because the current Speaker was a Tory up until eight years ago", which is less intuitive.

So for the sake of convenience many people covering the election will ignore the polite technicality that the speaker is independent (while his deputies, though equally impartial, are not), and just treat him as belonging to the part he was previously elected for.

-----------

The DUP and Soft Brexit.

There are three sets of reasons why the DUP might soften Brexit.

One is that, although the DUP are ardently anti-EU, and favour the hardest possible Brexit, they also demand that all existing benefits from the EU be retained. So they demand free access to the common market, the right to move freely in Europe, and the current level of funding from the EU to be maintained (although they also insist on being able to keep out European goods and labour and on no longer contributing to the EU financially). This may prove difficult to obtain (though some negotiation is possible - for instance, they say they'll accept the loss of EU funding if Westminster pays them the same amount the EU was paying them). They also, specifically, favour a "frictionless" border with Ireland, with no border checks of any kind. Now, theoretically, that's not a problem, because the Tories also insist that there will never be a return to the "hard" border with Ireland (while at the same time insisting that leaving the EU will return 100% of our border to Britain and prevent foreigners from sneaking in). In practice, however, many suspect that the DUP "frictionless" border will be a step beyond the Tory "soft" border, largely because the DUP might actually mean it. So while the DUP are in theory in agreement with the Tories, they're probably going to be more cautious in certain areas than Tory backbenchers are. Because they know that a major shift in relations with Ireland and the EU could cause massive public backlash in Northern Ireland, given its economic and potential security ramifications.

The second is that it just makes the government weaker, and a weaker government is inevitably going to find it harder to stick to any specific policy. It will not just have to placate the DUP - it also will not be able to survive any defections from its own backbenchers. Now, the Tory backbenchers might be in favour of a harder Brexit. But if a couple of hardliners defect from the government line in that direction, the government will be able to bring in a few votes from other parties to make up for that. While if a couple of moderates/Remainers defect, demanding a softer line on a particular issue, it'll be very hard to find any votes to replace them, since the other parties, while (other than the Lib Dems) accepting Brexit, are all 'softer' than the government. So inherently, by making the government weaker and forcing them to nurse every vote, it pushes them toward compromise and away from controversial extreme positions - as well as specifically tugging them toward the positions of all the other parties.

The third is simply that May's personal authority and legitimacy have been undermined, and her ability to argue that the public have delivered a mandate for Hard Brexit will have been badly bruised. This will have a much more abstract and non-specific influence on proceedings, but it must weaken her hand politically somewhat. Wavering MPs will find it harder to support her on controversial issues, and opposition MPs and rebels will feel more free to openly attack her.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 09, 2017 5:34 pm 
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Another major difference between John Bercow and Paul Ryan is that John Bercow actually stands out from his former party by being a nice guy.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 09, 2017 6:51 pm 
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Regarding how this will affect Northern Ireland: nobody knows, but it's unlikely to be good.

At the moment, for instance, the DUP and Sinn Fein's power-sharing in NI's assembly has collapsed. If they can't fix it, and they don't want yet another round of pointless elections, devolution will be temporarily withdrawn again, and NI will be ruled directly from Westminster.

Which Sinn Féin are usually only moderately concerned about - by convention, Westminster tries to avoid anything contentious in NI, so they can act as an independent arbiter, effectively.

Except that now, if they return to direct rule from Westminster, that'll be direct rule by... the DUP. Well, Sinn Féin will just love that!


In good news (relatively speaking), the DUP have reassured the leader of the Scottish Conservatives that they won't abolish gay rights - or at least, not before the leader of the Scottish Conservatives has had time to marry her girlfriend. Very considerate of them.

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 10, 2017 4:54 am 
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Thanks, Sal. Does anybody know how Nigel "I really really really don't want to return to active politics, but I may be forced to" Farage interprets the situation in NI? Is he even remotely aware of it? And, realistically, how likely are (1) Boris as PM and (2) another general election in October?

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 10, 2017 10:33 am 
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Pole, the wrote:
jmcd wrote:
You're just jealous, because you'd rather have this unrepresentative electoral system than one where an electoral alliance can get 7% of the vote and not a single seat.

Yeah, because a system that guarantees no representation is better than a system that requires you to pass the electoral threshold to be represented…

(I'm somewhat disregarding the effects of the effective thresholds here, but these seem not to have historically been a problem in Poland, cf. PSL with 5.13% and 16 seats in 2015 or ROP with 5.56% and 6 seats in 1997.)

Also, see UKIP in 2015.
Seriously, the UK electoral system is in need of reform. We had our chance, and I do much prefer AV to FPTP. But believed the government propaganda on it. They somehow went for 'BNP support this therefore it's bad'. Funnily enoguh, they didn't do that for the Scottish independence referendum...

Although I suppose people wouldn't necessarily know how to use this voting system. But perhaps that could be sorted out in schools if it's true: have lessons in how to vote as part of social education.

My real point is that the main thing getting in the way of the Greens is the electoral system.


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 11, 2017 6:04 am 
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alice wrote:
Thanks, Sal. Does anybody know how Nigel "I really really really don't want to return to active politics, but I may be forced to" Farage interprets the situation in NI? Is he even remotely aware of it? And, realistically, how likely are (1) Boris as PM and (2) another general election in October?


I can't speak on the Perpetual Leader's views on NI. Regarding the other questions:

- Boris as PM... hard to say. He looked favourite last time before being mullered, and my impression is he's not done well enough as foreign sec to make him a clear successor to May. On the other hand, he's not bolloxed it up, either, and being able to not bollox up foreign sec will go some way to addressing his main weakness (he's a buffoon). And he's the only one with the obvious profile and the ambition to seem like a natural candidate. On the other hand, he's the obvious favourite to take over, and the favourite hasn't won a tory leadership election since... I don't know, but since at least WWII, I think. He may benefit, however, from talk of opening up the vote. May was chosen purely by MPs, and that's not worked out well so far, and there's talk of giving the members more say. Which helps Boris, since he's more popular among the grassroots than he is among his colleagues.

FWIW, bookmakers have him at 2/1. With Hammond, Rudd and Davis as other contenders.

- Election in October? If we say 'autumn' generally... I don't know, 50/50? If the 'coalition' sort of works, they'd like it to run a year or two, I think (five years seems a stretch), but it's also possible that they'll find out the deal doesn't really work. I think maybe autumn is too soon, maybe they'll give it six months at least? So... maybe a 30% chance actually?

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 11, 2017 11:58 am 
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Here's an interesting thing to explain!

Today, Theresa May is 'reshuffling' her Cabinet, something that PMs do relatively often in minor ways, but quite rarely in major ways (often after elections). Today was meant to be major, but her position has been so weakened that she's been forced to keep the major figures in place. Reshuffles are much more complicated than in a Presidential system, because almost all the cabinet are always MPs, so there's a finite number of people to choose from. So, instead of picking and choosing each post one by one from the populace as a whole, the PM has to move around her stock of high-status MPs, with every person leaving one job having to be replaced by someone else, who is usually in turn leaving another job, etc etc. Like reshuffling a pack of cards. Ministers usually aren't in any way experts in their subjects - although if a minister does have outside experience, that can help them in getting certain jobs (like, people with some military experience are more likely to get the MOD, though it's not actually required; women often get Education or Health or the like, although that's beginning to change*).

[NB although we talk about cabinet reshuffles, in the UK we distinguish between three things: government ministers, who form "the government" and each have particular tasks; the party in power, which consists of about 1/3 government ministers and 2/3rds "backbenchers", who are expected to support the government but aren't directly part of it because there aren't enough jobs to go around; and cabinet ministers specifically, who are the top twenty or so ministers.]

*One infuriating thing the PM did during this campaign: she and her husband went on a gentle interview show and explained that he took the bins out every week because "there are boy jobs and girl jobs, you see". This from a female Prime Minister, former Home Secretary, who has a female Home Secretary herself (HS being about the most 'boy job' that you can get, traditionally - prisons, police, terrorism, etc). Not helping.

-------------------
-----------------------

But that's not what I want to explain! You probably knew all that. No, what I want to talk about is the appointment today of Damian Green as First Secretary of State and Minister of the Cabinet Office. Because that's actuall an interesting title!

OK, so what we need to know to start with is that much of the UK government is, constitutionally, fictional. Constitutionally, there is no such thing as a "prime minister", for instance. There have been PMs for hundreds of years, but it's only in the last century that they've started to get one or two minor legal acknowledgements - they're now in the ritual 'order of precedence' for entering formal banquets, for instance, and there are one or two laws that mention them - but they still have no official power or importance. If you go to No. 10 Downing Street, for instance, you will not find "Prime Minister" written on the door! 10 Downing Street is the residence of the First Lord of the Treasury. And that's a double fiction - first, because "First Lord of the Treasury" has had no practical importance for three hundred years (with a few exceptions, the last of which was a century ago, the FLotT has always been the PM); and, second, because, in keeping with our tradition of fictions, the PM hasn't actually lived at 10 Downing Street for twenty years now (well, Brown lived there very briefly for part of his reign). She actually lives at 11 Downing Street, the official residence of the Second Lord of the Treasury (who, by convention, is almost always the Chancellor of the Exchequer).
The country is legally run by the Cabinet, of which the First Lord is only one member. And most people think that the Cabinet is the upper echelon of the ruling party, or the advisors to the PM - both are legally false. Instead, the Cabinet is the executive committee of the Privy Council, a body that includes members from all the major parties and beyond, and which (via its executive cabinet committee) rules the country, although most people haven't heard of it.

Why does the PM bother with the title "First Lord of the Treasury"? Partly tradition and to avoid having to change the name on the plaque. But mostly because the country is run by Cabinet, and "PM" is not a Cabinet position. First Lord is, however. It is one of several old positions that continue to be used only because they come with membership of cabinet... and a salary. Other examples includes Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (who spends one day a week overseeing some of the Queen's estate management) and the Paymaster General (who sort of oversees government payments, although it's all done by professionals these days). And Lord Chancellor. Lord President of the Council. Lord Privy Seal. Note that most of those jobs are neither held by aristocrats nor by members of the House of Lords. [hence a famous description of the Lord Privy Seal: neither a Lord, nor a Privy, nor a Seal.]

So, for example, Natalie Evans actually is a Lord - she's been appointeed as a Baroness, and currently serves as Leader of the House of Lords (unless she's been reshuffled this afternoon!) - which means that she orchestrates the passage of government legislation through the Lords (and also has some impartial administrative functions for the House of Lords as a whole). However, "Leader of the House of Lords" is not a Cabinet position, and does not legally have any salary attached to it. So Ms Evans is also the Lord Privy Seal, the woman in charge of administering the monarch's personal privy seal (as opposed to her great seal of state, administered by the Lord Chancellor). LPS is a Cabinet position, with a salary, but has a lot of free time for doing things like being the leader of the house of lords, because the monarch's privy seal hasn't actually been administered for several centuries, and quite possibly doesn't actually exist.

It's a make-do-and-mend approach to government. As old jobs become obsolete, we re-use the titles and rituals and whatnot for new purposes, rather than going to the bother of changing all the letter heading and the like every time a new important job comes along...

[Oh, and "First Lord of the Treasury"? There's another fiction there. The actual chief minister of the crown is the Lord High Treasurer. But there hasn't been a Lord High Treasurer since 1714. The holder of the post had become too powerful, so he stopped being appointed. Instead, in his absence, the Treasury is administered by a commission of ministers. The First Lord Commissioner of the Treasury has ended up running the country, while the Second Lord Commissioner of the Treasury has been deputised to actually run the Treasury (and is better known by his other title, Chancellor of the Exchequer).]

-----------------

So, back to the subject. What does the First Secretary of State do? One of three possible things. But to answer that we need to look at another job: Deputy Prime Minister.

DPM is a job that's been around since WWII. The DPM is second only to the PM. Crucially, the DPM has no right of succession, as with a Vice-President or the like; they do, however, speak for the PM in certain situations (so when the PM is out of the country, for instance, the DPM is officially in charge, chairs the weekly meetings, shows up at PMQs, etc). [PMQs - when the PM is asked questions by the Commons every week, broadcast live. Mostly pointless theatre.]

Now, like the "PM", the DPM is not a member of Cabinet ex officio. Originally that didn't matter, because the DPM was always another cabinet minister at the same time. However! What if the DPM doesn't have any job?

This happened a few times back in the sixties, and a solution they devised was the title "First Secretary of State". The First Secretary of State is, by definition, a Secretary of State, which means he's a member of Cabinet - he gets to sit in Cabinet and he gets a salary. And as his name suggests, he's first among all the secretaries of state (other than the PM). So a DPM who had no other Cabinet job could be made First Secretary of State (rather than giving him a more menial job like Lord Privy Seal, which has no recent tradition of authority or power).

This then fell out of use for several decades, before being used twice more: for Michael Hesseltine and for John Prescott. Regarding the latter case, which I know better: Tony Blair's Deputy Prime Minister was not, as you might think, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, although he was very much the de facto second-in-command and obvious successor. Instead, the DPM was John Prescott, a representative of the 'Old Labour', working class, union-affiliated left of the party. This is often how DPM is used - not someone with real power, but either an advisor and supporter to the PM (like Whitelaw and Howe under Thatcher) or as a symbolic sop to a faction that otherwise lacks power, like Prescott under Blair. [only two DPMs have gone on to be PM, and one of those was due to a wartime coalition arrangement]. In 2005, however, Blair and Brown got sick and tired of Prescott not being very good at anything, and sacked him from all his jobs other than DPM. To keep him in the Cabinet, and to reassure his supporters that he still had authority, they made him First Secretary of State.

So that's one thing FSoS can do. It can be a back-up title for the DPM, and in a way a form of political emmasculation: it allows a PM to give someone the official trappings of being DPM, while removing from them any specific ministerial responsibilities (which could act as a power base for them).

But in 2009, Gordon Brown, his party collapsing around him, came up with a new idea. To effectively fix everything for him, he invited Peter Mandelson, an architect of the Blair regime, back into government. Mandelson wasn't an MP, so he was appointed a Lord, and to put him into Cabinet he was made First Secretary of State. But why? Well, everybody hated Mandelson, including Brown, and the public, and the idea of taking this guy whom everyone hated, and who wasn't even elected, and making him "Deputy Prime Minister", would just have been politically suicidal. Instead, he was simply made First Secretary of State, a title that told insiders that he had the authority and rank of a DPM but told outsiders "don't worry, he's not really the DPM!". As it happened, this was basically the first time the general public noticed the title, and it kind of backfired, making him sound like a sort of macchiavellian prince.

So that's a second thing it can do: it can again emmasculate, by elevating one person ahead of everyone else, but withholding the title "Deputy Prime Minister", which would give them power and public profile, and arouse the envy of others.

But in 2010, the new PM, David Cameron, picked up the "First Secretary of State" idea and gave it a third spin. Cameron was in a coalition government, and as a result he was forced to make the leader of the junior party, the Liberal Democrats, the Deputy Prime Minister. But obviously, titles aside, there was no way a Libdem would be accepted as #2 in the government by the larger party. At the same time, just as Blair didn't dare make Brown DPM, so Cameron didn't dare give his actual #2 and chancellor, and expected successor, Osborne, any official elevated position, since that would be crowning him "guy who's going to stab me in the back and take my job". Instead, Cameron made the Libdem leader his Deputy Prime Minister, but ALSO appointed William Hague, a somewhat older politician who had gravitas but no ambition to replace him, as First Secretary of State. A sort of way of telling the Tory rank and file "we had to make Nick Clegg DPM, but if we hadn't had to do that then this guy would have been my deputy".

[so how did Clegg sit in Cabinet? By being made Lord President of the Council.]

So there again it emmasculates the DPM, by giving him a rival who has effectively the exact same job...

Then, in 2015, after the coalition, when Osborne had grown more powerful and Hague less so, Cameron felt he had to give a deputy position to Osborne. But he didn't want to make Osborne DPM, which might be too powerful, so instead he made him FSOS - that second approach to the position again.

[also, osborne probably didn't want DPM. There's a general theme in British politics that appointed heirs rarely inherit. DPMs don't become PM, leadership frontrunners lose leadership elections, and people who remove PMs never replace them ('the hand that wields the knife never holds the crown'). So people with ambitions often try to avoid being marked out as a frontrunner or a designated successor. FSOS gave Osborne authority, but didn't put as big a target on his back as DPM would have done.]

----------

Now, May didn't bother with either a FSOS or a DPM at first, because she was our Glorious Leader who needed no help. Now she's made Damian Green (a wanker) FSOS. On the one hand, this placates her rank and file, who were worried about her becoming isolated - "look, I'm appointing a FSOS to support me!". On the other hand, it helps guard her back - Green is an old ally of hers, and him being there as ostensible #2 helps stop other ministers competing for that #2 spot. On the third hand, NOT making him officially DPM protects her against him - FSOS is still a relatively obscure title for the public, giving him much less public power than DPM would do. And on the fourth hand it protects him - FSOS suggests more "OK guys, I'm here to keep things organised!", whereas DPM suggests more "I'm the guy you need to stab in the back if you want any power". (DPMs might not become PMs, but only because they get bumped off before they can. It's like being first in line when everyone else in the line has a crossbow. On the one hand, if nobody kills you, you're first in the door. On the other hand, you're standing there with everyone else aiming at your back, and someones' bound to pull the trigger eventually.)

-----

Regarding the second part of the job title: Minister of the Cabinet Office... what's that?

Well, the Cabinet Office is the administrative body that supports the PM and the Cabinet, co-ordinates between ministries, etc. It has become increasingly powerful, as more government policy is centralised away from individual ministers - under Blair, for instance, the CO contained groups like the Strategy Unit and the Policy Unit, which often decided government policy before Cabinet had even seen the proposals. [those units don't officially exist anymore, but equivalent groups do].

Now, Green won't be in charge of the Cabinet Office. That's the Minister for the Civil Service, which is a title that is always held by the Prime Minister. The Lord President of the Council (who is also the Lord Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Justice, and the Leader of the House of Commons) and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster are both officially ministers of the Cabinet Office too. And then there's the Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office, who is a junior minister in charge of actually running the Cabinet Office.

Instead, Green is just a "Minister of the Cabinet Office", a non-cabinet position (he'll sit in cabinet as FSOS), which basically means that he'll be doing stuff within the CO. I expect the parliamentary secretary will do the actual running of the department, while Green will have a freeer hand overseeing key policy units and liaising between other ministers.

Note well: although we generally talk of 'ministers', like the 'Justice Minister', the highest cabinet miniters (other than a few old titles like chancellor) are officially "secretary of state for ___" - "minister for ___" is a second-rank title, followed by "parliamentary secretary", followed by "parliamentary undersecretary". These are not to be confused with permanent secretaries, who are the senior civil servants at each department. In particular, the "Cabinet Secretary" is not a minister - he's the senior civil servant, the head of the civil servants in the cabinet office, and he's usually (and currently) the head of all civil servants outside of the foreign office.

As Yes Minister's first episode puts it:
" Sir Humphrey: Well briefly, sir, I am the Permanent Under Secretary of State, known as the Permanent Secretary. Woolley here is your Principal Private Secretary. I too have a Principal Private Secretary and he is the Principal Private Secretary to the Permanent Secretary. Directly responsible to me are ten Deputy Secretaries, 87 Under Secretaries and 219 Assistant Secretaries. Directly responsible to the Principal Private Secretaries are plain Private Secretaries, and the Prime Minister will be appointing two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries and you will be appointing your own Parliamentary Private Secretary.
Hacker: Can they all type?
Sir Humphrey: None of us can type. Mrs Mackay types: she's the secretary."

(to clarify: while a permanent secretary is a civil servant, and a parliamentary secretary or undersecretary is a junior government minister appointed (de facto) by the PM, and a private secretary is a civil servant who is effectively a personal assistant to a minister, a "parliamentary private secretary" is an interesting thing - they're a politician appointed to help out a minister, but they're appointed, at least theoretically, by the minister themselves, rather than by the PM.)


And I hope that everyone is now completely without any sort of lingering oconfusion...

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 11, 2017 3:28 pm 
Boardlord
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That was awesome. How did you folks conquer 1/4 of the world again?

I'm guessing that Britain gets by with this sort of muddle because a) nothing has forced Britain to really change it for 300 years, and b) they kinda like it.

But, more seriously, was this sort of complexity common in premodern states? E.g. was ancien régime France just as much a pile of ancient titles and exceptions, but we don't notice because it got reformed multiple times? Or has Britain always been an eccentric outlier?


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 11, 2017 3:37 pm 
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zompist wrote:
was ancien régime France just as much a pile of ancient titles and exceptions
Yes. It was. So was the government of the the Holy Roman Empire.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 11, 2017 3:50 pm 
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Salmoneus wrote:
[…]

So, basically, the British needed to have the formal positions of the head of government, the deputy head of government and the presiding officer of a chamber — as any functioning modern state needs — but since these positions had been nonexistent and they couldn't create them, they informally reuse the positions of the First Lord Commissioner of the Treasury, the First Secretary of State and the Lord Privy Seal, respectively?

Quote:
That was awesome. How did you folks conquer 1/4 of the world again?

They are on an island, I suppose.

I think an interesting case study would be to compare the United Kingdom to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (a.k.a. The First [Polish] Republic, known of actually being a monarchy), which basically started the same way — by the nobility enacting laws limiting the monarchical power, but ended with the nobility in power, corrupted and unable to defend the country several centuries later.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 11, 2017 6:47 pm 
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zompist wrote:
That was awesome. How did you folks conquer 1/4 of the world again?

Through extensive exploration of the constructive capabilities of ambiguity!

But seriously, aside from the economic foundations of British power, this system is actually a huge part of it. Britain was able to be succesful because it developed a highly flexible system of government, which limited the rise of destructive strongmen and the chaos that can come from their succession crises, while still providing strong and stable rule. Effectively, the system allows power to operate either as one-man rule, or as collective cabinet rule, or as rule by the legislature as a whole, and how things actually work shifts between these modes depending on the circumstances and the individuals. Things like constructive ambiguity, and like semi-ritualised offices, help to encourage that flexibility. During the time the system has endured, many other seemingly more logical systems of government elsewhere have broken down - the Westminster system is designed (or, crucially, has organically evolved) to bend rather than break.

For instance, why hasn't there been a wholesale rewriting of the constitution to meet current facts? Well, little bits get changed now and then (Blair, for instance, removed the power to appoint judges from the Lord Chancellor), but there's never been wholesale change because the system discourages wholesale changes. And that's because if you give people the power to rewrite things to fit the new facts, they often end up either using that power to increase their own authority, or else they construct a system that fails to meet the demands of the next era. Even just in minor ways - like, "Deputy Prime Minister" is a title that is really useful in some governments, but then at other times is more trouble than it's worth, and when that's the case we just... don't have one. Or invent a new title like 'First Secretary of State' to do some of the same stuff but not quite.

I'd put it the other way around: America has been able to survive, so far, without this protective wolly muddle because everything's gone so great for it, given its natural advantages, that it's never faced a serious crisis. (well, only one, and it handled that very badly). [note that our modern system was originally set up in the aftermath of our last civil war, to prevent it from happening again; we tried your "just give all executive authority to one man" approach, but it didn't work out too well].

Quote:
But, more seriously, was this sort of complexity common in premodern states? E.g. was ancien régime France just as much a pile of ancient titles and exceptions, but we don't notice because it got reformed multiple times? Or has Britain always been an eccentric outlier?

Both. Yes, premodern states, which rely more on ritual than on law, tend to be filled with obsolete titles, ambiguous powers, and sui generis exceptions. On the other hand, Britain has always been a bit of an outlier even in that respect, in that it's always had a relatively weak monarch, which meant that a lot of this was able to evolve naturally through the mutual weakness of parliament and king.


Pole: to clarify two points: 'First Secretary of State' sounds like one of those respectable old titles, but actually it was invented in 1962. And the Lord Privy Seal isn't necessarily the leader of the lords, she just is at the moment. Traditionally, the LPS has been either the Leader of the Lords or the Leader of the Commons, but this isn't inherently the case, and it's occasionally been used either as a minister without portfolio position, or to put someone whose ministry is otherwise too minor into cabinet. Likewise, whichever Leader the LPS isn't is normally Lord President of the Council - but not always. Lord Mandelson and Nick Clegg were both Lord President of the Council, for instance.

It shoudl be pointed out that the average man on the street doesn't really know what these titles mean, even if they've heard them once or twice.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 12, 2017 3:39 am 
Avisaru
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zompist wrote:
But, more seriously, was this sort of complexity common in premodern states? E.g. was ancien régime France just as much a pile of ancient titles and exceptions, but we don't notice because it got reformed multiple times? Or has Britain always been an eccentric outlier?


Yes, the ancien régime was possibly even more complicated. No titles or offices were ever abolished, e.g., but new ones could be added.
A good example are the departements (our main territorial divisions) - previously we had different and convoluted divisions depending on whether you were speaking about the army, fiscal administration, clerical administration, the judiciary, and so on.

Unlike Britain, we had Louis XIV to greatly increase the power of the king; except that when he died, his successor was five year old and the regency was a mess. So the Regent granted back old privileges to the Parliaments, which weren't legislative bodies, but judicial ones - in effect, constitutional courts, except that there were several of them, because law varied widely between provinces.
Parliaments effectively prevented reform, which is why Louis XVI had to summon the Etats-Généraux, which hadn't met for centuries at this point.

Cue French Revolution, and eventually most of the ancien régime institutions were thrown down the toilet.

Part of the reason Britain is an outlier is that Napoleon did his best to export the new, reformed, French institutions in Continental Europe.

Personally I think Britain had a better idea. Their system works just as well as ours, and historically it has worked a lot better, with a lot less bloodshed. There's a lot to be said for institutional stability.
(Macron suggested one that deep down, the French people miss having a king. It makes a lot of sense; the French love it when the president behaves like royalty)


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 12, 2017 5:32 am 
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Salmoneus wrote:
As Yes Minister's first episode puts it


Oh how blest we are that that show exists!

zompist wrote:
I'm guessing that Britain gets by with this sort of muddle because a) nothing has forced Britain to really change it for 300 years, and b) they kinda like it.


a) Indeed. It's partly a matter of geography; our insular setting does allow for following tangents without the threat of invaders from Europe coming over and trying to smash the whole thing up.

b) You can say that again!

Salmoneus wrote:
note that our modern system was originally set up in the aftermath of our last civil war, to prevent it from happening again; we tried your "just give all executive authority to one man" approach, but it didn't work out too well


More on this.

Basically after we killed the king that one time, there was a bit of a period of experiment for 11 years as the country tried to work out how it was going to be run. At first they tried to run the country with the parliament which remained after the regicide (and had been purged of both royalists and parliamentarians that wanted to negotiate with the king). This was called the "Rump Parliament". That went OK for about three years, but they couldn't figure out how to pay the standing army that the Roundheads had created during the war (bad sign), and later were dissolved by a certain Oliver Cromwell when they tried to pass a law whereby they would nominate their own successors as MPs left/died.

So then they tried a "Nominated Assembly" (better known as the "Barebones Parliament") with a disproportionate number of religious radicals, leading the moderates, in cahoots with the army, to dissolve this after a few months.

Those two periods together are known as the Commonwealth, while the next period is known as the Protectorate because Cromwell was Lord Protector for the duration.

So first we have this thing called the "Instrument of Government", Britain's attempt at a constitution set down in a single document. This shared out power between Parliament and the Protector, to the frustration of Cromwell. The latter half of this period saw the rule of the "Major Generals": government agents appointed by Cromwell over regions of the country to enforce "Godly Reformation". This is the period of history from where all the stories of Cromwell banning Christmas and the like come from, though the Major Generals varied in their effectiveness. This collapsed after a year and a half, and with it the Instrument.

So Cromwell was offered this "Humble Petition and Advice", which basically offered him the crown and all associated powers. He ended up rejecting the crown but took all the powers it gave him, making him the "king in all but name". If anything this actually worked better than the more restrictive Instrument of Government, and managed to function fairly well until Cromwell died (probably because Cromwell was far better at being a king than Charles I). Thus followed a highly chaotic period featuring Cromwell's son Richard trying to rule but being overthrown in an army coup and a couple of other changes of government before royalists marched south from Scotland and Charles II was invited back, with a subsequent Royalist reaction nullifying much of what the Interregnum had achieved. If anything things really began to change after the "Glorious Revolution", when the king was out of the country half the time and his queen died halfway through his reign, enabling Parliament to reduce the power of the monarch and move towards the modern constitutional monarchy.

Ars Lande wrote:
Personally I think Britain had a better idea. Their system works just as well as ours, and historically it has worked a lot better, with a lot less bloodshed. There's a lot to be said for institutional stability.
(Macron suggested one that deep down, the French people miss having a king. It makes a lot of sense; the French love it when the president behaves like royalty)


My mother takes a similar view: she feels the French are a bit too full of themselves because they don't have something so ridiculous as the monarchy at the top of their government.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 12, 2017 10:43 am 
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So with all this title stacking, is there any limit on this? Who confers these titles/positions, anyway?

What I'm getting at is, is there anything legally stopping a person from getting themselves granted a whole passel of different titles, thus ending up with control of everything, as opposed to splitting it up between different people? Aside from tradition and the peasants getting restless, I mean.

(I never knew any of this about the British government, by the way, so thanks for this really fascinating discussion! I've learned a ton.)

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 12, 2017 12:02 pm 
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Here's a short piece on the Scottish results:https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/laurie-macfarlane/five-reasons-why-snp-lost-seats-in-general-election

----

It's a bit scary a president claiming people miss the monarchy...


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 12, 2017 12:11 pm 
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Quote:
Pole: to clarify two points: 'First Secretary of State' sounds like one of those respectable old titles, but actually it was invented in 1962.

Ah. But if they could create the FSoS title, couldn't they also create a formal PM or DPM title? Or are there some rules about what titles can be created and what cannot.

Quote:
During the time the system has endured, many other seemingly more logical systems of government elsewhere have broken down - the Westminster system is designed (or, crucially, has organically evolved) to bend rather than break.

I might sound cynical, but you could just as well say that Calvinball is superior to chess, because with the former you don't need to change the game when you get bored or tired.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 12, 2017 12:48 pm 
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Frislander: a lot of interesting stuff actually happened in the bit we're not taught about much these days: the Restoration. Under Charles II, there was an awkward period in which things moved toward parliamentary rule, but the presence of the King meant that power wasn't just handed over to the majority. At the same time, the king's chief ministers were so unpopular for their one-man rule that attempts were made to spread that power out into collective rule. The theoretical form of later rule was basically set by Sir William Temple's Privy Council Ministry, in a cross-party privy council delegated control to a single-party executive committee. It was an abysmal failure for a number of reasons, but it set the pattern...


Alynnidalar: offices are officially conferred by cabinet, acting on behalf of the privy council, acting on behalf of the queen. In practice they are conferred by the Prime Minister, theoretically acting on behalf of cabinet. As I understand it, anyway, although you'd have to read Erskine May to work out the details for sure!*

There is in theory nothing to stop the Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service from giving herself any other appointments she wishes. This used to happen sometimes. Salisbury was Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary at the same time (and was the last Prime Minister to not concurrently be First Lord of the Treasury), and so was Macdonald. Baldwin was even briefly PM and Chancellor of the Exchequer at the same time. All PMs since the sixties have been Minister of the Civil Service - an attempt to shore up their power. (at that point, there was a movement to a more organised cabinet office to oversee the running of things, and the PM felt it was important to give himself a new title to make clear that, despite the delegation, he was still in charge of the civil service (i.e. the entire executive, in practice)). Other than that, the latest example of a PM with multiple appointments was WWII - between 1940 and 1952, the PM was also the Minister of Defence, and Churchill was the last PM to also be Leader of the Commons.

In practice, the weakness of the PM to revolt means that they wouldn't find it easy to give themselves lots of titles; at the same time, the strength of the PM, which is growing greater and greater in recent decades, means that there's no point. The PM gets things done by giving order to her ministers - the only PM who would have to give herself another ministerial job would be one who didn't have enough power to force that minister to do what she wanted anyway, but, conversely, a PM that weak probably couldn't give herself that power anyway.

The fundamental ambiguity of the PM is that she wields almost absolute short-term power, in pratice, outside of extreme situations (like we have right now), and yet has no long-term power whatsoever (she could be removed from power by either her party or by parliament literally at almost any moment).



*"Erskine May" (Erskine May: Parliamentary Practice, originally published as A Treatise upon the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament by Thomas Erskine May, Esq, 1844) is a constitutional treatise widely accepted as authoritative regarding the constitutional function of parliament. It's kind of cute that one of our most fundamental constitutional document is not a bold-penned construction-of-a-new-world-order declaration, but just a academic essay on procedural precedents...


Pole: yes, they could create a formal PM role. But there's no actual point, so why bother? [and it would still be theoretically possible that the "Prime Minister" might then not actually be the Prime Minister - what if the Prime Minister appointed an ally or a rival "Prime Minister" for political reasons, while still retaining all the power of the Prime Minister?]

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 12, 2017 7:29 pm 
Avisaru
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zompist wrote:
But, more seriously, was this sort of complexity common in premodern states? E.g. was ancien régime France just as much a pile of ancient titles and exceptions, but we don't notice because it got reformed multiple times? Or has Britain always been an eccentric outlier?

[/quote]

I wouldn't be surprised if this complexity exists in modern states, as well—its titles just haven't had the time to have their everyday meaning shift to make it seem odd. Running a government is a rather large job, and people like having fancy titles, so, you end up with things like the Principal deputy under secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics.

Salmoneus wrote:
For instance, why hasn't there been a wholesale rewriting of the constitution to meet current facts? Well, little bits get changed now and then (Blair, for instance, removed the power to appoint judges from the Lord Chancellor)


How does this process work? Like, does the Parliament get together to create an Amendment? Where is it recorded? Who votes on it?

(I've always had a hard time getting my mind around the idea that there's a "constitution", but it isn't written down in a document somewhere)

Quote:
I'd put it the other way around: America has been able to survive, so far, without this protective wolly muddle because everything's gone so great for it, given its natural advantages, that it's never faced a serious crisis. (well, only one, and it handled that very badly).


I could probably argue three: the first is the mess immediately after we "won" the Revolutionary War, which took a decade or so, and we got the Constitution after a small group of men hastily talked over a summer and kind of tried to make something that would maybe not suck; the second is, as noted, the Civil War; and the third would be the Great Depression, which is largely responsible for why we have any sort of reasonable social programs at all around here. But, I digress.

Ars Lande wrote:
(Macron suggested one that deep down, the French people miss having a king. It makes a lot of sense; the French love it when the president behaves like royalty)


I would say we Americans are the same, which is why we've elected someone who wants to be one. Again, I digress.



Back on topic: so, if the average British person isn't really aware of all of this, how did you come to be, Salmoneus?


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