From the pages of


Transition? What Transition?!
by Martin Lewis
(First published November 13, 2000)

The rest of the world has been watching these shambolic wranglings in America with scarcely concealed amusement and incredulity.

Among the topics that have caused most bewilderment are the constant references to speeding up the process because of the need to prepare for the transition.

America's Constitution calls for a transitional period of approximately 10 weeks - from the first Tuesday in November till the following January 20. This period was devised in the 18th century to allow for the orderly counting of votes - and to provide the winning candidate sufficient time to travel to the nation's capital in time for the inauguration.

But there are democracies that have a transition process of less than 10 HOURS!

For example, in Britain (population approx. 55 million) elections take place on a Thursday. The polls close at 9 p.m. All votes are immediately counted manually. Recounts are also counted manually. Results are declared from 11 p.m. through to about 3 a.m. Results from far-flung Scottish islands, etc., are declared early the next morning. By noon on Friday the national result is official.

If the incumbent is defeated, the outgoing prime minister must immediately go to Buckingham Palace to surrender the seals of office to the Queen. Within an hour, the winner goes to meet the Queen to accept the official invitation to form a government. This official meeting is usually completed by 1 p.m. on that day following the election.

The new winner then proceeds directly to the office and residence of the prime minister - 10 Downing Street - and takes immediate occupancy. In other words, the departing prime minister then has approximately six hours to get packed up and depart!

I can offer a personal recollection of how one British leader dealt with precisely this issue.

As a very young man, I was a marketing consultant to Britain's Labour party during the 1979 general election, at which the Conservative party's Margaret Thatcher took power. The polls were going badly for incumbent Labour prime minister James Callaghan, and on the Sunday night

prior to the Thursday polling day, I was summoned to Downing Street to present some last-minute ads I'd created.

The official party line was that Callaghan was still expecting to beat Thatcher. However, when I arrived at the prime minister's home, the first thing I noticed was that the entrance hall was stacked to the ceiling with packing cases. Callaghan had been PM since 1976. Either he was the world's slowest unpacker - or he was already prepared for the defeat which his private polls told him was inevitable.


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