Saturday, 19 May 2007


A major difference between the US and UK systems involves the transition from one administration to the next.

In the United States "Election Day" is the "the first Tuesday after the First Monday in November". Presidents, Senators and Members of the House of Representatives are elected on that day. Yet they don't take office until the following January. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution states:

"The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin."

In the United Kingdom the transition is more immediate. While an MP technically loses his status when Parliament is dissolved (usually within a few days of the General Election being called), MPs who are standing for re-election are treated as the sitting MP until the result is announced (often in the middle of the night following polling day). Once the announcement is made, they are OUT. The transfer of powers from one Prime Minister to the next is also fairly speedy. In most General Elections the new Prime Minister is known within hours of the polls closing - and his trip to the Palace to resign and his successor's appointment follows the same day. When a new Prime Minister is chosen by their party in the middle of a Parliament (as in 1976 when Callaghan was elected by Labour MPs as Wilson's successor; and in 1990 when Tory MPs picked Major) the existing PM goes to the palace within a few hours, or the next day).

Gordon Brown will be Blair's successor. He gained so many nominations from Labour MPs (313 out of 352) that no challenger would have been able to collect enough nominations (44) to go forward for the final stage of the election. Yet he will not become Prime Minister until 27th June! As the Guardian put it yesterday "Britain began an unprecedented six week transitional government yesterday as Gordon Brown accepted his landslide nomination as Labour leader and an invitation to a series of briefings with Whitehall permanent secretaries, police chiefs, defence chiefs and senior public service professionals."

The Modernisation Committee of the House of Commons has heard frequent complaints about the short period of time between a General Election and the first sitting of Parliament - and the problems that it causes.

Is it time for the UK to adopt a US style transition period?
What do you feel the adavantages and disadvantages are?

Your timely comments on this matter could spark a real - and necessary debate.