We are now less than a week away (hopefully) from knowing the result of the US Presidential election. How much will change? Should the challenger win, he will be known, for as long as such things are remembered, as 'the 46th President of the United States'. Otherwise, it will be business-as-usual for the 45th President, Donald Trump.
Including the present inbcumbent, there are 44 names on the Presidential roll of honour, and not 45, as Trump's ranking might suggest. Grover Cleveland (elected in 1885 and 1893, and the only man in the history of the Presidency to win non-consecutive terms) counts twice. Here, during the same period, non-consecutive premierships were a common occurrence. Famous beneficiaries included William Pitt the Younger, Sir Robert Peel, Lord John Russell, Viscount Palmerston, the Earl of Derby, Benjamin Disraeli, William Ewart Gladstone and the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil. (The day after he left office for the last time, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil was succeeded by his nephew, Arthur Balfour. Such splendid symmetry of succession inspired the old hymn to nod-and-a-wink nepotism, 'Bob's your uncle'.)
There are no modern examples of British Prime Ministers being granted a second chance, once they fail at the polls. It's almost 100 years since Stanley Baldwin and Ramsay MacDonald entertained the nation with their version of 'No, please, you next!' – a process they repeated four times between 1923 and 1935. In all the years since, only Winston Churchill and Harold Wilson served non-consecutive terms in Downing Street.
People imagine there isn't really much to connect elections in Britain with those in the US. How many people truly understand the role of the Electoral College? Then there is the mind-boggling amount of money involved. Does anyone actually know (down to the last million or so) how much it costs to ensure the most inspiring, qualified and deserving candidate makes it to the steps of the Capitol Building in January, where he (or, possibly, who knows when, she) will be invited to solemnly swear (or affirm) to 'preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States'?
American voters, don't forget, are seeking to elect a man (or a woman, though not yet) who will serve as head of state, head of government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces for a fixed period of four years; limited to no more than two terms, subject to conditions. Here, there is nothing (apart from the mood of his or her party and the jaundiced response of the electorate) to prevent an elected Prime Minister continuing in office indefinitely. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act, passed in 2011, is mainly concerned with setting a five-year interval between elections, without, in any way, guaranteeing the tenure of whichever party leader succeeds in obtaining a working majority in the House of Commons. And even then, as we have witnessed in recent years, it comes nowhere near the constitutional rigidity of a four-year Presidential term.
Yet, when it comes to numbers, two quite different systems somehow manage to produce remarkably similar statistics: 44 Presidents of the United State since 1789... 43 Prime Ministers during the same period. We are told father and son presidents, George H W Bush and George W Bush liked to address each other using their presidential tags, '41' and '43'.
Donald Trump, currently the last in a not-always-distinguished line, continues to be known as '45'. Which is how he will remain, win or lose. Unless, of course, he fails to win this time and the Republicans decide to nominate him again at some future date. All he will have done is one term. Could he resist the challenge of seeking to match Grover Cleveland's record? When it comes to results, there is little to choose between the two systems.