So it’s been decided, by a handful of people, who our next prime minister could be. They’ve picked two possibilities, both representing the same political party and over the next two months a tiny fraction of the electorate, again all from the same political party, will decide who’s in charge of Britain. That is how our twenty-first century democracy works.
Of course we don’t always choose our prime ministers like that. In a general election the entire electorate has a say. But even then we don’t get a prime minister that most people want. Tony Blair’s 1997 victory is described as a landslide, but even he only got just over 42% of the votes.
A parliamentary democracy is not always how our leaders have been chosen. In the Middle Ages we had a hereditary monarchy, with our leader chosen by God or fluke depending on your beliefs! Such a system wasn’t all bad. It threw up some very good leaders. It also gave us some very incompetent ones and some children… This random way to choose a leader still survives in twenty-first century Britain in the selection of our head of state. We already know who our next three heads of state are going to be. It doesn’t matter if they’re any good. It doesn’t matter if they want the job. They might get the job in their seventies or if fate decides it, one could get the job in his teens.
In the Dark Ages if you wanted to be leader, it certainly helped to be born into the ruling class, but being the eldest son of the last king was no guarantee. Alfred the Great inherited the throne of Wessex from his older brother, as his brother’s sons were still children at the time. Cinaed Mac Alpin’s claim to kingship was based more on military might than birth and his heir was his brother Domnall. Cinaed’s eldest son, Causantin was probably in his early twenties when his father died, but even so Domnall took precedence. It seemed the people and possibly Cinaed himself preferred his heir to be a man of proven experience.
In the Dark Ages the king might simply be whoever could take control, often by force and conquest. Again it gave the country some good leaders. It probably also gave us some nasty thugs and there must have been a lot of plots and backstabbing.
Have things really changed?