Why was this man a government minister for three years without being elected?


As Rishi Sunak knows, a ministerial resignation can be highly damaging to a prime minister.
Sunak resigned as chancellor a year ago, which marked the dawn of the end of Boris Johnson’s premiership.
Today the tables turned as Lord (Zac) Goldsmith resigned in anger from Sunak’s government. While Lord Goldsmith attacked Sunak for apparently lacking interest in green issues, it is understood that he quit after being told to apologize for being accused of being part of a campaign to undermine the inquiry into Johnson’s conduct as PM.
However, it’s unlikely Sunak will lose sleep over this particular departure.
For a start, Lord Goldsmith, a staunch ally of Johnson, has been withering in his criticism of Sunak in the past and had a very junior role as a Foreign Office minister.
He used to be an MP but lost his seat in the 2019 general election when Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney defeated him by 34,559 votes to 26,793 in the Richmond Park constituency.

The Unusual Case of a Non-Elected Government Minister

In that case, how did Lord Goldsmith become a government member in the first place?
Lord Goldsmith is a peer drawn from the House of Lords. And while we think of governments as made up of elected MPs, a quirk of the UK’s system means unelected peers like Lord Goldsmith are also allowed to be government ministers.
But Lord Goldsmith’s appointment, in particular, was extraordinary. It was in the early hours of 13 December 2019 when it was confirmed Goldsmith – as he was then known – lost his Richmond Park seat.
Six days later, his friend – Boris Johnson – appointed him a life peer: thus allowing him to keep his role as environment minister that he had been given while still an MP earlier that year.
A past tweet from Lord Goldsmith soon resurfaced in which he had said about peers in 2012: “Seedy lists of party apparatchiks appointed by power-hungry party leaders and insulated from any democratic pressure for 15 years? No thanks.”

A person can only be the Prime Minister or a secretary if they are a member of Parliament. So, if the Prime Minister or a secretary lost their chair in an election, they would no longer be a member of Parliament.
The Prime Minister is the regime’s Leader and is selected by a vote of the government members. The Prime Minister keeps their job as long as they are a member of Parliament and retains the government’s support. If the Prime Minister lost their seat at the next election, the party would need to elect a new leader.
This happened in 2007, when the then Prime Minister, John Howard, was not re-elected to his seat. His party then needed to elect a new party leader who became the Leader of the Opposition (since the party also lost the election). Since the Federation in 1901, only two serving Prime Ministers have lost their seats at an election. The other was Stanley Melbourne Bruce in 1929.
Ministers are members of Parliament and are appointed by the Prime Minister. If a minister loses their seat, the Prime Minister must appoint a new minister.

Public Response to Non-Elected Government Ministers

Articles 75(5) and 164(4) state that a minister who for six consecutive months is not a member of either House of Parliament or state legislature respectively shall cease to be such minister at the expiration of that period.
In other words, what it means is that an individual who is appointed as a minister (which includes the Prime Minister or Chief Minister as per the interpretation of the Supreme Court) need not be a member of Parliament (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) or state legislature (legislative assembly or legislative council) at the time of his such appointment but they must get elected to Parliament or State legislature within six months from the date of such work to continue in the post.

Instances of Non-Elected Ministers in the Past

Dr B. R. Ambedkar, during debates in constituent assembly in response to the suggestion by some members that every individual to be appointed as a minister must first be a member of Parliament or legislature, had stated that it is perfectly possible to visualize that a person who is otherwise competent to clasp the post of a minister has been beat in a constituency for some reason. He might have annoyed the constituency and incurred the displeasure of that particular constituency. It is not a reason enough why a member so competent as that should not be allowed to be appointed a cast member on the assumption that he shall be able to get himself returned from the same constituency or another constituency. After all, the privilege that he is permitted is a privilege that expands only to six months. It does not confer a right on that individual to sit in the House without being elected.

About the author

Olivia Wilson

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