- TheGuardian: "David Cameron is new prime minister"
- BuckinghamPalace: "Appointment of new Prime Minister"
David Cameron is the new PM.
But some questions remain:
1. Did Gordon Brown potentially embarrass the Queen by resigning as caretaker Prime Minister before a formal deal had been settled between the Tories and the Lib-Dems?
2. As newly appointed Prime Minister, is David Cameron merely acting in a caretaker capacity - until a formal coalition agreement or arrangement on confidence is settled with the Lib-Dems?
Based on New Zealand's precedents and experience, the resignation and appointment seems somewhat premature. The Governor-General has made it clear that in order to appoint a new PM and government, "political parties [must] have reached an adequate accommodation, and a government is able to be formed or confirmed". In New Zealand, it is expected that parties will make that clear "by appropriate public announcements" and to provide the Governor-General with "sufficient information to be able to appoint a new Prime Minister". By custom, or perhaps even constitutional convention, the public announcement expected from political parties in New Zealand is either a joint statement confirming a coalition or confidence and supply agreement has been settled or public disclosure of those agreements. It is from these political compacts that the Governor-General is then able to ascertain which political groupings are able to "command the confidence of the House".
But do we have that in the UK now? No deal appears to have yet been settled, although a general outline of the type of arrangement has been foreshadowed. Is that enough for the Queen to be ascertain where the support of the House lies, with the requisite certainty? I'm not so sure. There's still a chance that negotiations about the form of the arrangement may break down.
However, Gordon Brown's immediate resignation forces the Queen's hand. The Monarch cannot be left without government advisors. A Prime Minister is needed. Hence the swift moves to appoint David Cameron. But, if - as I suggest - he has not yet demonstrated with certainty that he commands the confidence of the House, then he must only be (in NZ parlance) a caretaker Prime Minister. That is, legally installed in office, but subject to the constraints of the constitutional caretaker convention.
These subtleties make be lost on a UK audience, but I think it's fair to say that the New Zealand experience, customs and conventions would probably avoid such hiccups. The expectations in terms of signed political compacts, public statements, and public ceremonial appointment of the Prime Minister, along with acceptance of the caretaker convention mean we would be unlikely to get such a premature transfer of power.