Westminster works. A rubbish Prime Minister is sussed within days. A market-shaking budget results in a Chancellor being fired. Currency falls; market confidence shot; pensions crisis. Within 50 days the Prime Minister has been replaced. A new cabinet is installed. Currency back to pre crisis level; market confidence restored, at least until the sensibly delayed Autumn Statement.

Only in Britain. Because of our unwritten constitution and the principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty, Prime Ministers can be replaced in short order. A quizzical monarch, who in his 47 day reign has said “Dear, oh Dear” to his first Prime Minister, and shaken hands with his second, King Charles III must wonder what further delights his Commons has in store.

It is sobering to reflect that this scenario could have been as true if Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn had been the PM facing the consequences of loony left policies post a successful general election as it was when markets reacted with universal dismay at Liz Truss’ unfunded tax cuts. Confidence is a fickle thing.

Be ye under no illusion. Both major political parties are quite capable of reducing government to burlesque. The British people can rest slightly more comfortably in their beds for knowing that if MPs in a majority party understand they have screwed up, there is a reset button.

In no other democracy I can think of is that true. Whatever chaos ensues, the French are stuck with Macron, the Germans, Scholz, and the Americans, Biden – as they were with Trump – until the next electoral cycle comes round. Even the Chinese have to wait until the Mandate of Heaven is exhausted. Perhaps we Brits have lucked out.

That’s not to say that the Conservative Party – declaration of interest, I am a long suffering member – has any cause for self-satisfaction. Never has the political capital of a healthy parliamentary majority been so carelessly squandered as by Buffo Boris or Low Tax Liz. I aspire to low taxes as much as any Tory should, but not when spiralling into the black hole of a Covid-fuelled deficit. Recovering the confidence of a cynical electorate will be a much tougher task for Rishi Sunak than settling queasy markets.

It will not have escaped the notice of infants studying Public Policy in Primary 1 – before moving on to become Special Advisers – that most of our recent trauma was caused by William Hague. For it was he, when leader of the Opposition, who changed the party leadership election rules, allowing members in the country the final say in leadership elections. 

That was all well and good when electing a leader of the opposition, who, if a political crazy, still had to jump the hurdle of a general election, but not when electing a Prime Minister with hands immediately on the government tiller.

There is also the not so small point that in Hague’s day the party membership totalled over a million, whereas now it’s around 172,000. It seems obvious that MPs in the Commons, with at least the authority of a mandate from their constituents, should elect their party’s leader when they are in government.That is as true for Labour as it is the Conservatives. 

This summer’s five week farrago of hustings should persuade the new Conservative Party Chairman, Nadhim Zahawi, a talented politician who seems to have emerged relatively unscathed from his eternally shifting quicksands of changing loyalty, to discuss with Peter Booth, President of the National Conservative Convention, the need for an urgent change in leadership rules.

When in government, yes, let the people decide. But they should be the people elected by the nation in the previous General Election. Westminster worked this time. But only just.

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