Spectre: Families of bereaved British servicemen to stand against pro-war politicians
August 6, 2006 6:38 AM   Subscribe

"Families of soldiers killed in Iraq launch party to challenge ministers". Reg Keys, father of a British serviceman killed in the Iraq War, stood directly against Tony Blair in his Sedgefield constituency as an independent candidate (see Wikipedia for a brief summary of independent movements in the UK, USA and Canada) in the 2005 UK election, taking 10% of the vote. A founder member of Military Families Against The War, he is also at the centre of a new political movement, Spectre, that aim to stand up to 70 members of bereaved families directly against pro-war government and cabinet members in the 2009 election, and each by-election before then. See also the Guardian's Guide to anti-war websites.
posted by nthdegx (17 comments total)
I need to learn more about how the british electoral system works.
posted by delmoi at 6:44 AM on August 6, 2006

So do we british...
posted by Meccabilly at 6:48 AM on August 6, 2006

In the UK, the electoral system works much as the US senate, except we elect only one MP per constituency instead of the USA's two senators per state. Our PM is the equivalent of the US senate's majority leader in that he's the party's choice, not the country's. There is no Presidential equivalent. Our Prime Minister is elected only in his constituency, but gains power through his party gaining more seats than anyone else. Some see this system as unfair because the constituencies vary in size and population, and the number of elected MPs is not proportionate to the number of votes each party receives (much like senators). I think that's it, in a nutshell.
posted by nthdegx at 7:02 AM on August 6, 2006

@ delmoi --

Maybe you'd find this Daily Kos post helpful. The key point for American readers is possibly:
Our prime minister is not constitutional (sic) the equivalent to your president, and we do not vote for her/him.
posted by chorltonmeateater at 7:04 AM on August 6, 2006

The system can lead to a strategy of "decapitation" in elections whereby you do not seek to gain power by displacing a party in bulk, but enforce change by ousting a party's leader and/or other key figureheads. If a party wanted to run a very strong candidate against, say, the Minister of Defence, and invested all its resource there, they might send a very strong signal about UK anti-war sentiment if the independent was even close to the Minister's vote, let alone if they ousted them. I wonder, then, if aiming for 70 seats in 2009 could be counter-productive.
posted by nthdegx at 7:09 AM on August 6, 2006

There is no Presidential equivalent.

I thought that was the Queen :P.

I was under the impression that under a lot of parliamentary systems (such as Iraqis) there is a president, which is a figurehead similar to a king or queen (and a head of state rather then a head of government).

Now, can a prime minister be thrown out if a majority of the MPs want him out (like say if a certain number of his party defects), or does it have to be a majority of the majority party? I was thinking that Blair could be thrown out if he pisses off enough people, or something to that effect.
posted by delmoi at 7:35 AM on August 6, 2006

Now, can a prime minister be thrown out if a majority of the MPs want him out

Yes. A majority of all the members of the House of Commons need to approve his leadership. The Prime Minister is approved by a vote in parliament when he first arrives. They can also call for a "vote of no confidence" at any time, and he must resign if he loses.
posted by cillit bang at 7:46 AM on August 6, 2006

The wikipedia article on the subject seems pretty accurate.

The Prime Minister is appointed by the Sovereign, who is bound by constitutional convention to choose the individual most likely to command the support of the House of Commons (normally, the leader of the party with a majority in that body). Should the Prime Minister lose the confidence of the House of Commons (indicated, for example, by the passage of a no confidence motion), he or she is morally obliged by similar conventions either to resign (in which case the Sovereign can try to find another Prime Minister who has the House's confidence) or to request the monarch to call a general election.

However, since the position is usually held by the leader of the majority party, if the leader of that party were to change (cf. Thatcher/Major) then the new leader generally becomes PM, with no general election held.
posted by kaemaril at 7:47 AM on August 6, 2006

Well, the question was about the British system, in which, though the Queen is Head of State, and has a series of (fascinating) theoretical powers, she doesn't have real power like the US President, so I am not sure the comparison stretches too far.

It is the party that generally decides when their leader should go, assuming they do not step aside of their own accord. In Thatcher's case that was through a leadership challenge, but this can depend on a party's own internal rules. MPs can call for a vote of no confidence in the PM (regardless of party), but there are specific rules about how this must take place, and they would likely need significant support from members of the majority party which they are unlikely to receive. Callaghan was the last PM to be defeated by a vote of no confidence in March 1979; but actually this is something I really need to know more about.
posted by nthdegx at 7:54 AM on August 6, 2006

That's great and all, but did they have to pick a name that's so blatantly terrorist, even if it is old school.
posted by pjsunray at 8:26 AM on August 6, 2006

shoulda been more clever yeah?
posted by clavdivs at 12:08 PM on August 6, 2006

So are most families of British soldiers against the war? Are they generally more anti-war than the rest of the population is?

Because in America, it seems most military families are generally seen as being more pro-war than the rest of America.

Why is this different?
posted by b_thinky at 1:03 PM on August 6, 2006

In Canada, too, there's a growing and vocal group of military families who are very, very unhappy with our PM (Stephen Harper) and the current Conservative government. Canada isn't in Iraq (as you might know) but we're in Afghanistan together with the US & UK.

For those of you not yet totally confused by parliamentary systems:
Our current government is a minority in the parliament, and so they can't actually pass any bills in the House of Commons without the support of other parties. To add to the fun, we have a Senate, but the majority of the Senate is currently members of the Liberal party. However, tradition — which is what most of common law and parliamentary systems really come down to in the end, it seems — dictates that the Senate pass bills that the House of Commons passes, as Senators are appointed by the Governor-General (who does whatever the Prime Minister tells her, again, by tradition.) However, people break from tradition when something offends the hell out of them, or, you know, to score political points.

The Liberal party is currently without a real leader (they've got an interim leader, but that's largely meaningless) because their previous leader, Prime Minister Paul Martin, resigned after sucking horribly and losing the election in January 2006. An election could happen, theoretically, at any moment, as soon as the government loses a vote in the House on any "matter of confidence" (one must specifically make a motion to make a vote a matter of confidence, except for budget bills, which are always such) but again due to tradition, a governing party generally will not precipitate an election until the opposing parties have their affairs in order and a properly elected leader.
(end of lesson)

Once the Liberals have a leader (I believe their convention is in November or December?) Canada will see an election shortly afterward, and some of the, if not the only, most important issues will be foreign affairs, the US, Bush, military action, and how we all think this is going.

According to polls over the past month or so, support for the government is on a downward trend. Our affairs with the Conservative party are always so brief and torrid.
posted by blacklite at 4:58 PM on August 6, 2006

Our prime minister is not constitutional (sic) the equivalent to your president, and we do not vote for her/him.

*cough* Electoral College *cough*
posted by pax digita at 7:57 PM on August 6, 2006

*cough* Electoral College *cough*

Yeah, but when you elect electoral college members the only thing they vote on is who's going to president (and VP), so it's close to a direct election.

When we elect MPs, they become actual members of parliament, whose job happens to include approving a prime minister.
posted by cillit bang at 8:02 PM on August 6, 2006

If I was a Labour Minister I'd be overjoyed at the news that this protest party was going to stand against me. Given that it is a first past the post election, all they will do is split the anti-Labour section of the vote - reducing the chance of a Lib Dem / Conservative taking the seat.

Even if they were to take a couple of seats exactly what would they do in parliament without a party? Unless they had the extreme fortune to hold the balance they would be pointless voices in the wilderness. Even a demagogue as potent as George Galloway hasn't been particularly effective in a party of one.

I think everyone must have a genuine sympathy for these parents - which is what they're counting on electorally - but they are really being counterproductive. They would work much better if they either worked independently as a pressure group pressurising individual MPs, of all parties, to commit to troop withdrawl, or by joining whichever major party best represents their views and advocating their position within that party.

Unless of course their aim is to secure Labour ministers' seats for them...
posted by prentiz at 6:15 AM on August 7, 2006

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