On the eve of the English parliamentary elections, Elad Klein & Resul Umit’s paper in The Journal of Legislative Studies commands attention. The authors study UK House of Commons data from 1992-2015 to establish the relationship between local elections and government ministerial appointments. Do the electoral interests of MPs and party leaders influence the strategic process of government selection?
Traditionally, electing MPs and appointing government ministers have been two separate processes. There is little evidence to show whether electoral performance of an MP affects their likelihood of ministerial selection. Political science points to a ‘rational choice’ approach whereby prudent and logical decisions based on party loyalty or policy preference, are made for maximum agency within the party. But could a landslide win or history of repeated wins in local elections increase the chances of ministerial selection? Klein & Umit believe so; whilst MPs aim for re-election and future promotion to government, party leaders aim to boost MP numbers, stay in power and pursue their ideals. Hence, there is an ‘electoral connection’ between the power of the electorate to select MPs and decision making amongst government ranks in ministerial selection. The authors state, “The party leader needs to offer the offices to the right parliamentarians … to achieve the desired policy outcomes. At the same time, he needs to ensure that his decision does not cost his party votes, and thus seats, in the next election.” Could the party leaders be playing it safe with MPs and constituencies when appointing ministers?
Klein & Umit compiled statistics for newly appointed ministers in the last five electoral terms, considering post allocations, age, gender and most significantly electoral majority and seat safety. Overall, their findings suggest a strong correlation between electoral safety and ministerial appointment. MPs previously in office had a significantly higher chance of reselection and those with higher vote share were more likely. Women too had a higher chance of selection but junior MPs were less likely pending the cultivation of a following in the constituency. Conversely more senior MPs with large following need not rely on a safe constituency for ministerial selection but could count on reputation alone.
Most significantly ministerial selection was linked to safe constituencies even when MPs lacked experience in office prior to government appointment. The authors conclude “these findings highlight the meaningful weight of the re-election ambition both for parties and parliamentarians, and show that safety comes first... When the prospect of re-election is in danger, vote ambition outweighs other ambitions… As a result, elections might be more than the dual mechanism of choosing a legislative representative and a party leader in parliamentary systems... electorates can affect the allocation of ministerial positions as well.”