Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The Last Sunday After Pentecost - Where The Alternative Service Book Got It Right

Those who follow the Book of Common Prayer and/or Common Worship lectionaries will be aware that last Sunday was the 20th Sunday after Trinity.

If - like me - you became a Christian from a non-churchgoing background in the late 1980s or early 1990s and attended a Church of England church, then your first liturgical encounter would be with the Alternative Service Book. It would be confusing to hear older people reminisce about Series 1, Series 2, Series 3 and Series 2 & 3 Combined.

A key part of any service book is its calendar. The Church calendar plays a role in helping us remember parts of Jesus's life, death and resurrection, and the actions of God in His story of redemption - not just the familiar Easter and Christmas Day, but the Epiphany (6 January), Transfiguration (6 August), Ascension Day etc.

One of the ways that I feel Common Worship has improved on the Book of Common Prayer is its handling of November. In the BCP, you had Advent Sunday, which would be between 27 November and 3 December inclusive, with the Last Sunday after Trinity being the Sunday before that (i.e. between 20 and 26 November inclusive).

November is a heavy month. The nights draw in, frosts appear, deciduous trees are bare, flowers die. There is this element of death and decay - and that month sees All Saints' Day (1 November) and All Souls' Day (2 November), as well as Remembrance Sunday (which, for obvious reasons, the Reformers would not have known about).

Common Worship draws this together into its own little liturgical season, starting with All Saints' Sunday, 4 weeks before Advent - hence between 30 October and 5 November inclusive. This means that its Last Sunday after Trinity is 4 weeks before the one in the BCP (so will be between 23 and 29 October inclusive). Before we get into the rush of Christmas and our celebrating of the birth of Jesus, we reflect on our own mortality.

Under the ASB calendar, Common Worship's Last Sunday after Trinity would be 9 Before Christmas, as the Church of England bought into the secular idea that Christmas needed a nice long period of preparation.

And so the Sunday between 16 and 22 October inclusive (i.e. last Sunday) would be on the calendar as the Last Sunday after....

No, not Trinity.

Trinity Sunday can be as early as 17 May or as late as 20 June. There is that long period in the church calendar where Sundays are named after how many weeks they are after it.

The Alternative Service Book used a different starting point - the Sunday before Trinity, which is Whit Sunday (in the BCP) and Pentecost (in Common Worship). This celebrates the day that the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and the others in the upper room, empowering them to bring the Christian Gospel across the known world.

The nth Sunday after Pentecost is the (n-1)th Sunday after Trinity.

This seems, to me, to be the better starting point. The Church's mission, and our individual lives, rely on the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Naming our Sundays after Pentecost puts the focus, correctly, on this.

The Crossbench Senate - A Consequence Of The Canadian Election

It is now clear that Canada's Liberals have gone from a poor third place to win yesterday's election - which is an amazing turn around, given that at the previous election, in May 2011, the New Democrats had replaced them as the Official Opposition.

What might be overlooked is the Senate, which has an upper size of 105 members. There are currently a rather large number of vacancies - 22 in all, just over one-fifth of the Senate. And this now gives the incoming Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, a golden opportunity.

A couple of years back, I noted that former Prime Minister Tony Blair was a bit of a genius by appointing loads of Blairite Labour peers, who would carry the flame for decades after he had left office. The situation in Canada is similar, as a Prime Minister can appoint his or her own people to the Senate.

There are a couple of restrictions:

  1. Not only is there a maximum size of 105 - preventing the almost unlimited appointments that a British Prime Minister could do - but Canada's federal structure sets the number of Senators per province/territory, with Québec and Ontario being entitled to 24, while the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon are entitled to 1 each
  2. Senators have to retire by their 75th birthday

One fundamental difference with the House of Lords is that a Canadian Prime Minister tends to make appointments from his own party, rather than the British-style inviting the Leader of the Opposition and leader(s) of major minor parties to nominate. The other fundamental difference is that there is no real equivalent of the Crossbench peers who are a key part of the House of Lords.

The current composition is:

  • Conservative - 47
  • Independent-ish Liberal - 29
  • Independent - 6
  • Progressive Conservative - 1
  • vacant - 22

As with anything political, it is more complicated, and the non-Conservative Senators need to be explained in more detail.

The Progressive Conservatives were an old party, similar to the Conservative party we know in the United Kingdom. The October 1993 election was a disaster for them, being reduced to fifth-party status with just 2 MPs, and the Prime Minister, Kim Campbell, losing Vancouver Centre to the Liberals.

Something had happened a few years earlier which had been a factor in their decline. In November 1988, John Dahner, the Progressive Conservative MP for Alberta's Beaver River, died from cancer. March 1989 saw a by-election, with Deborah Gray becoming the Reform Party's first MP.

The November 1988 election had been the last of the traditional 3-party (Progressive Conservative, Liberal, New Democrats) ones, with the Reform Party coming a poor fourth, with just over 2% of the vote and no MPs.

In 1993, newcomers Bloc Québécois won 54 of Québec's 75 seats and became Canada's Official Opposition. Second in terms of votes - but with only 52 seats - was the Reform Party, eclipsing the Progressive Conservatives as the voice of the centre-right. The next election, June 1997, saw the Reform Party overtake Bloc Québécois in terms of seats, so its leader, Preston Manning, became Leader of the Opposition. The Progressive Conservatives increased to 20 MPs, but remained in fifth place.

The Reform Party's seats were all in western provinces - Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In all of these (apart from Manitoba, where the Liberals topped the poll), it was the largest party in terms of votes and seats. Apart from an MP from Manitoba, the Progressive Conservatives were winning seats in provinces where the Reform Party was failing to win any - Newfoundland (now Newfoundland & Labrador), New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Québec. Indeed, in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (where it was the New Democrats who won a majority of the province's seats), the Progressive Conservatives came first in terms of number of votes.

November 2000 saw another election with the Canadian Alliance - the successor to the Reform Party - again forming the Official Opposition, and the Progressive Conservatives remaining in fifth place. Although the Alliance picked up a couple of seats in Ontario - where the Progressive Conservatives lost their sole seat - they were again winning seats in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, failing to make real inroads anywhere else.

In December 2003, the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives mostly merged to form the Conservatives.

However, not taking part in the merger were a few politician, including Elaine McCoy of Alberta, who would go on to be appointed to the Senate in March 2005. When she reaches retirement in March 2021, that will be the end of the Progressive Conservatives as a parliamentary party.

There are 6 Independents - Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu (Québec), Patrick Brazeau (Québec), Anne Cools (Ontario), Michael Duffy (Prince Edward Island), Don Meredith (Ontario) and Pamela Wallin (Saskatchewan).

Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin were all initially Conservatives, who subsequently resigned the Conservative whip, followed by suspension for breaking rules. The suspensions only last until the election, so all 3 will be able to take their seats again when the Senate next meets. Whether the Conservatives let them re-join is another matter.

Boisvenu, Cools and Meredith are also ex-Conservatives (although Cools, currently the longest-serving Senator, was initially appointed to the Senate by Trudeau's father as a Liberal).

The current law sets election day to be the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year after the previous election - hence the next election should be 21 October 2019. And, under the retirement rules, there will be other vacancies to be filled by the time this new Parliament is dissolved:

Retirement Senator Province Party
February 2016 Irving Gerstein Ontario Conservative
April 2016 Céline Hervieux-Payette Québec Independent Liberal
May 2016 David Smith Ontario Independent Liberal
August 2016 Michel Rivard Québec Conservative
January 2017 Jim Cowan Nova Scotia Independent Liberal
Wilfred Moore Nova Scotia Independent Liberal
Nancy Ruth Ontario Conservative
May 2017 Maria Chaput Manitoba Independent Liberal
August 2017 Bob Runciman Ontario Conservative
September 2017 George Baker Newfoundland & Labrador Independent Liberal
Libbe Hubley Prince Edward Island Independent Liberal
November 2017 Kelvin Ogilvie Nova Scotia Conservative
April 2018 Pana Merchant Saskatchewan Independent Liberal
May 2018 Nancy Raine British Columbia Conservative
August 2018 Anne Cools Ontario Independent
Betty Unger Alberta Conservative
September 2018 Art Eggleton Ontario Independent Liberal
November 2018 Nick Sibbeston Northwest Territories Independent Liberal
December 2018 Colin Kenny Ontario Independent Liberal
April 2019 Ghislain Maltais Québec Conservative
June 2019 Charlie Watt Québec Independent Liberal

So, from the maths it looks like Trudeau can have 22 Senators appointed in the very near future, and adding those to the 29 Independent Liberals gives him 51 Senators - just 2 short of an absolute majority when the Senate is at full capacity. In addition, during the course of this Parliament, he will be able to replace 8 Conservatives and 1 Independent with Liberals - bringing him to 60 Senators.

The Independent Liberals - I didn't get round to them, did I? In January 2014, Trudeau had all Liberal Senators removed from the Liberal caucus. According to him:

The Senate is broken and needs to be fixed. If the Senate serves a purpose at all, it is to act as a check on the extraordinary power of the prime minister and his office, especially in a majority government. The party structure in the Senate interferes with this responsibility. Taken together with patronage (appointments), partisanship within the Senate is a powerful, negative force. It reinforces the prime minister's power instead of checking it.

The article states:

If elected prime minister, Trudeau said he'd go further. He'd appoint only independent senators after employing an open, transparent process, with public input, for nominating worthy candidates — much the way recipients of the Order of Canada are chosen.

It sounds like Trudeau is looking at something like the House of Lords Appointments Commission, with its function in recommending crossbench peers.

If Trudeau is going down this route, then the Senate at the time this Parliament is dissolved will look something like this:

  • Crossbench - 43
  • Conservative - 39
  • Independent Liberal - 17
  • Independent [ex-Conservative] - 5
  • Progressive Conservative - 1

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

If David Cameron Resigns In 2019, What Is The Best Time?

There was an interesting article by James Forsyth in The Spectator, suggesting that Prime Minister David Cameron will resign in 2019:

Mr Cameron has chosen a date for his departure: his closest allies in Downing Street have been told that he intends to announce he’s leaving in the spring of 2019. The Tory leadership race would then take place over the summer, with the new leader introducing themself to the country at the party conference that autumn.

Out of post-war Prime Ministers, Cameron has already served longer than Winston Churchill (considering solely his post-war premiership), Anthony Eden, Alec Douglas-Home, Ted Heath, Jim Callaghan and Gordon Brown. He overtakes:

  • Clement Attlee on 11 August 2016
  • John Major on 14 October 2016
  • Harold Macmillan on 16 February 2017
  • Harold Wilson on 14 February 2018
  • Tony Blair on 6 July 2020
  • Margaret Thatcher on 6 December 2021

A Conservative leadership race over the summer of 2019, with the new leader making his or her first appearance at the October conference, sounds intriguing. But there are a couple of problems with timing.

A modern-style leadership race takes about 2 months, so this is time taken out while a party should be preparing for the next election - due on Thursday, 7 May 2020. If we look at how far in to a Parliament a Prime Minister has resigned (for whatever reason) we have:

General election Change of leader Outgoing leader Incoming leader Time from election
October 1951 April 1955 Churchill Eden 3y 5m
May 1955 January 1957 Eden Macmillan 1y 7m
October 1959 October 1963 Macmillan Douglas-Hone 4y 0m
February 1974 April 1976 Wilson Callaghan 2y 1m
June 1987 November 1990 Thatcher Major 3y 5m
May 2005 June 2007 Blair Brown 2y 2m

The only example of a change of Prime Minister in the fifth year of a Parliament didn't work out well, but the two fourth-year changes did lead to the party winning the following general election. Interestingly, these were around the same point of a Parliament, and - if the change were at a similar point - then a new leader would present himself or herself at the 2018 conference. At this point, Cameron would have become the third longest-serving post-war Prime Minister.

It is possible that the Conservatives will enter Opposition after the next election, and - if Labour wins decisively - the removal vans could be at 10 Downing Street by lunchtime on Friday, 8 May. Now consider the scenario of a new leader being unveiled and taking office at the 2019 Conference, which we can reasonably assume will be in October. If the new leader takes office on or after 11 October 2019, then he or she runs a real risk of having a shorter premiership than Bonar Law's. So, I think we can rule out a leadership change that late in 2019 - and remember this would involve the starting gun being fired in July or August.

If the 2014 pattern is followed, then the European elections will be on Thursday, 23 May 2019. The 2014 election saw the Conservatives come third, on 23.93% of the vote - their worst result ever in a national election. Unless the Conservatives are very unlucky, then there will be a dead cat bounce, and Cameron can say that he increased the party vote. With general elections now being on a 5-year cycle, the European elections are the last major test of party support.

Cameron could announce his resignation following the European elections, leaving on an electoral upswing, and a new Prime Minister being chosen in August, ready to face the House of Commons when the summer recess is over.

Alongside the European elections, there would also be the local elections, and - due to these being on a 4-year cycle - those elected alongside the May 2015 general election will face re-election.

The European and local elections will be the major elections of 2019, and it would not do for the Conservatives to be in the middle of a leadership contest (although in 1994, Labour - by tragedy, not by choice - had to fight the local and European elections while its leadership contest was happening). Again, if we assume that a contest, from start to finish, is 2 months, then this would mean Cameron announcing in March (around the Budget?) at the latest that he would be going and setting the contest in process.

In 1955, Eden decided to cut-and-run, with Parliament dissolved exactly a month after he took office. Major decided to take the opposite approach, and nearly finished the complete term that Thatcher had led the Conservatives to. An incoming Prime Minister wanting the same (or larger) gap between taking office and fighting his or her first election as Prime Minister - with enough time to establish a distinct style - would need to take office by 27 December 2018.

Looking at the dates, I think that Cameron will either step down in 2018 or be leading the Conservatives into the 2020 election.