Executives (Prime Minister, Cabinet & The Core Executive)

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The cabinet. Still relevant as a policy making hub or just one of a series of drivers of government policy?

BBC’s Radio 4 series on Prime Ministers


Questions often revolve around power resources of the PM ie has PM power increased in recent years? One of the main things to remember is the George Jones ‘elastic band’ theory of power – that power resources change over time according to the particular circumstances of the time. Power resources are thus not static.

Often, questions ask about extent to which Cabinet government is threatened….this is relatively straightforward.

Yes – threatened because PM is helped by party discipline and control over party; because power resources are flexible – there is no requirement to consult Cabinet, there are only conventions; institutional innovations – creation of a mini PM department for instance – have strengthened PM; rise of independent power of the PM – presidentialism theory – through direct appeal to public via media it appears that PM is the most powerful political actor etc etc

No – at certain times (of weakness) the PM requires the protection of collective cabinet government; authority based on support of ‘big beasts’ in cabinet; even though institutional supports have increased they are far smaller than ie the US president, so PM still relies heavily on Ministers who have their own departments and set of civil servants working for them; related to this is the idea that government is so complex that one individual cannot control the whole show; ultimately, while Cabinet government in the traditional sense ie of collective decision making around a table doesn’t really exist, Cabinet is still crucial because in the UK system government is still formally a collective enterprise

There are related questions about whether PM power has increased

There may well be a question also about the effect of coalition on PM power (p265-270). Try to make sure you revise this – it’s important.

Key concepts and language

Cabinet – 22-24 Secretaries of State who each (with some exceptions) take charge of a government ministry or department. Each is appointed by the PM under the power of patronage, and each can be removed in a reshuffle. Cabinet as a whole endorses rather than creates policy.

Cabinet government – the theory that cabinet as a whole decides upon and co-ordinates policy. The PM is simply first amongst equals. Cabinet debates, formalises and co-ordinates policy for the whole of the government. It also organises party management in parliament. It provides a reminder that, despite the growth in prime ministerial power, no PM can survive if he or she loses the support of the cabinet. It is kept alive by the fact that the prime ministers authority is linked to the backing he or she receives from the ‘big beasts’ of the cabinet, some of whom may enjoy such widespread support within the government and party that they are effectively ‘unsackable’. However Cabinet meetings are often infrequent. There is less debate in Cabinet overall. Cabinet discussion is often dominated by a dirigeste approach. Devolution, the HRA, the European Union and other developments such as the normalisation of the use of Referenda have limited the role of Cabinet.

Collective responsibility  – Cabinet is jointly responsible for the whole of government policy.If a minister is unable to support government policy then he or she is obliged to resign from the government.

Coalition Government – The Coalition Agreement for Stability and Reform in 2010 was necessitated by the failure of the Conservatives to obtain a majority in the 2010 General Election. This somewhat weakened Cameron’s position as PM. He was forced to share power with his Deputy Nick Clegg (who had a veto over Lib dem appointments to the government and cabinet). All policy had to be agreed by the QUAD. (Cameron, Clegg, Osborne, Alexander)

Cabinet Office – supports the Prime Minister and ensure the effectives running of government. Ensures the effective development, coordination and implementation of policy. Blair was criticised heavily for fusing the cabinet office together with the PM’s political office thus (according to critics like Kavanagh) “politicising” the civil service.

Cabinet Committees According to Hennessey these are “the engine room of government”, the forum in which the real decision making power lies. According to former Chancellor Lawson (The View from Number 11) Cabinet is merely the forum for approving decisions “already taken elsewhere.” Blair chaired more than half of all Cabinet Committees during his premiership indicating a desire to tightly control policy formulation. Under coalition Clegg was allocated the chair of a significant number of cabinet committees.

Core executive  – Smith (1999) –  A complex theory of the distribution of power within central government. Rejects simplistic notions of Prime Ministerial power in favour of the idea that power is a variable distributed amongst a number of key actors at the heart of government and that power flows variably over time between the PM, the cabinet, cabinet committees, PM Office, Cabinet Office, party and parliament. The Core Executive is the network of institutions at the centre of British Government including the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Cabinet, the Cabinet Office, Cabinet Committees, the Bank of England, the individual Departments of State [among which the Treasury, the Home Office  and the Foreign Office are the most significant], senior MPs and even, perhaps the representatives of major insider pressure groups. Political decision making involves ongoing negotiation among some or all of these groups each of which have powers of different kinds. Although the PM may often appear to be the most significant individual within the Core Executive there will be many times when s/he will have to negotiate a preferred outcome and will certainly not be able to impose it.

Prime ministerial government  – emerged with Crossman in the 1960s who claimed that there had been a transformation of Cabinet Government into Prime Ministerial Government. Consistent with the idea that post war PMs had gradually become more and more powerful to the point where they were much more than merely ‘primus inter pares.” The core feature of this view is that it is the PM, and not the cabinet, who dominated both the executive and parliament. This happens because the PM is both head of the civil service and the leader of the largest party in the commons.

Primus Inter pares – Latin for First Amongst Equals suggesting a more or less equitable balance or distribution of the power of the cabinet and the power of the PM. Term was coined by Bagehot in 19th Century but the theory is seen as largely outdated.

Dirigeste approach – a strong or directed/driven approach by the PM to control cabinet and government policy. Often associated with PMs who were seen as strong and domineering such as Thatcher and Blair.

Presidentialism  – Foley’s Presidential Thesis (1993). Took the idea of PM dominance and further developed it into his presidentialism thesis. Under this thesis there has been a growth of ‘spatial leadership’, a tendency towards ‘populist outreach’, increasingly personalized election campaigns, the adoption of personal mandates, wider use of special advisors. and a strengthened Cabinet Office.

Spatial leadership – This partly means that Prime Ministers have presented themselves as “outsiders” to the main thrust of government, Thatcher reminding us that she was a grocer’s daughter, and Major emphasising his more humble background and limited formal education. Blair similarly was very good at projecting himself as not being part of the Labour party or beholden to the unions. Thus in particular Thatcher hoped to convert the Conservative Party to her version of New Right ideology much as Blair  wished to replace the ideology of “Old Labour” with that of “New Labour”. We may also see early evidence of this tendency in David Cameron’s attempts to change Conservative Party ideology in the direction of “Compassionate Conservatism”.

Populist outreach – the ability to connect directly with the electorate and appear to be the figurehead of the country. Blair particularly (and Cameron to a lesser degree) was very capable in this regard. He managed to appear to be above party and parliament.

Political leadership –  Foley argues that modern politics places much greater emphasis on leadership roles, and he draws on US experience to show how this tendency has crossed the Atlantic. Blair came to power in the Labour Party in 1994, and at once proceeded to stamp his imprint. Major, at this time was suffering badly from an impression of being indecisive and weak. The 1992 election, which many thought Labour could and should have won, had a traumatic and continuing effect on Blair and the party, making them fear that poll leads reflected ‘soft’ vulnerable support which the Conservatives could destroy with their campaigning abilities. Having established such a theme of superior leadership, it was natural that Blair should seek to fulfil his opposition rhetoric when in office and to establish credentials for the second term. Maybe also he has been concerned to negate the constant challenge of Gordon Brown through assiduous cultivation of his leadership position.

Constitutional flexibility – PMs take advantage of the relative flexibility of the UK’s uncodified constitution to shape the Office of the PM to their own political advantage. Blair for example fused the Cabinet Office with the Political Office, issued orders in council which allowed Powell (Chief of Staff) and Campbell (Director of communications) to issue instructions directly to civil servants.

Individual responsibility –  A minister has both role responsibility and personal responsibility. Role responsibility means that the minister is responsible for what happens within his or her own department. Personal responsibility applies to the conduct of the minster

Power –  Royal powers: Patronage and Prerogatives WAR, PEACE, TREATIES AND FORMERLY THE POWER TO DISSOLVE PARLIAMENT. The powers of patronage refer to the ability to appoint ministers and award peerages.  The UK’s Uncodified constitution makes the powers of the office ELASTIC but there are a number  Countervailing forces: Cabinet, Party management, Public opinion , Core executive, Events and Coalition. The PM’s ability to exercise his or her powers depends upon a number of factors.

Authority  – Prime Ministerial authority is usually enhanced by a general election victory.

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Cabinet Government Model

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Cameron since 2015

Positives

  • Increased authority by winning first outright Conservative Majority since 1992 (23 years)
  • Party briefly united behind him
  • Able to appoint a cabinet and a government without influence and restraint from a coalition partner
  • Acting presidentially in the EU renegotiations

Negatives

  • Syrian Intervention – won the vote but middle eastern military action can become a longer term drag om PM authority (rising casualties, getting locked in with no clear exit strategy, protracted conflict with no end in sight)
  • Global economy is still very weak and UK’s economic outlook is flat
  • Lost the Tax credit cut in the Lords and ultimately had to abandon policy
  • Had to withdraw 1.3bn worth of disability benefit cuts following a potential backbench revolt
  • Some loss of authority over Panama papers tax revelations
  • Potential challengers (May, Osborne, Gove, Johnson)
  • Resignation of Iain Duncan Smith and criticisms from him on the burden of austerity
  • Significant divisions over the EU referendum and the suspension of collective cabinet responsibility.
  • Wafer thin majority – backbenchers emboldened by this.
  • Lost Sunday Trading in the Commons March 2016
  • Ultimately lost Brexit referendum and resigned

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PRIME MINISTER, CABINET AND EXECUTIVE  LESSON MATERIALS

PRIME MINISTER

The prime minister is the single most important figure in the UK political system. He or she is the UK’s chief executive. But what this means in practice is the subject of considerable debate and argument. Until the 1980’s, the post of PM had little official recognition. The person who held the post was technically the first lord of the treasury. However, the power attached to the office has grown enormously. Some even highlight the trend towards presidentialism. Who becomes the PM, and what role does the PM play?…

To become the PM, a politician must fulfill three qualifications:

Prime Ministers must be MPs.

They must be a party leader.

His or her party usually has majority control of the House of Commons.*

*There are two post war exceptions to this – February 1974 where Wilson became PM even though Labour were 33 seats short of an overall majority and May 2010 when David Cameron became PM with the Conservatives 18 seats short of a majority.

ROLE OF THE PM

The role of the PM is, in the UK’s uncodified constitution, a matter that has developed over time and been shaped more by practical circumstances than the allocation of formal responsibilities. The traditional view of the role of the PM was summed up by Bagehot. “the prime minister is ‘first among equals’”. This view implied that the PM is seen as:

‘First’ in the sense that they are the primary representative of government. The Official Title of the PM is First Lord of the Treasury

‘Among equals’ in the sense that all members of the cabinet had an equal influence over decisions.

However, this traditional formulation has long since ceased to be accurate. It fails to capture the full range and significance of the role of the modern PM. The key aspects of the modern PM are…

Forming governments.

Directing government policy.

Managing the cabinet system.

Organizing government.

Controlling parliament.

Providing national leadership.

IS THERE A PRIME MINISTER’S DEPARTMENT?

On taking office in 1997 Tony Blair said “We will run from the centre and govern from the centre.” As well as taken to mean that Labour backbench MPs needed to be loyal to the government in parliament, (the so called “Blair Code of Conduct”) it was also taken to be a signal of intent that Blair was to govern in a dirgeste fashion.

Why was this? There were 4 main reasons. Firstly it was to ensure that the party elected as New Labour would govern as New Labour. No member of the party or the government was allowed to be off message. When Social Security minister Frank Field went ‘off message’ he was briefed against in the press and then sacked. Secondly, the Major years had been viewed as shambolic because of disunity at all levels of the Conservative party. They had been punished with an elctorl ‘tidal wave’ as Blair put it and he was determined that Labour would not follow this example. Thirdly government policy had been fragmented. Policy would need to be ‘joined up’ from the centre. Fourthly political control and authoritarian leadership (being strong instead of weak) was seen as a political and an electoral asset.

On taking Office Blair issued orders in council allowing staff members Alistair Campbell and Jonathon Powell to issue instructions directly to civil servants. This wrested control of civil servants from individual ministers.

Blair also took control of the Cabinet Office and fused it with the Prime Minister’s Office.

The number of Special Advisors to ministers and government was also increased to act as a countervailing force against civil service self interest.

Blair also created a strategic communications unit, a forward strategy unit and a social exclusion unit. These ‘task forces’ were responsible for overseeing government policy as a whole. Ministers would have to account for initiatives to each of these units.

Finally Blair had inherited a policy unit, a press office, a private office and a political office. These were all ‘beefed up’ to ensure strategic control from the centre.

THE CABINET

The cabinet is a committee of the leading members of the government. It comprises usually 20-23 members, most of whom are secretaries of state responsible for running Whitehall departments. Within the cabinet there is a pecking order, with the posts of Chancellor of the Exchequer, foreign secretary, home secretary and, if appointed, deputy PM being regarded as the ‘plum’ jobs. This may also mean that such minister form an inner circle of ministers who are consulted more frequently by the PM, sometimes in the form of a kitchen cabinet. Since the time of Thatcher, the cabinet has met once a week, on Wednesday morning although it may be convened at other times as the PM chooses.

ROLE OF CABINET

There is a major gulf between the role of cabinet in theory and in practice. In constitutional theory, the cabinet is the top body in the UK executive, the highest decision-making forum. The UK therefore has a system of cabinet government based on the convention of collective ministerial responsibility. However, it is widely accepted that over a long period, and possibly, accelerating in recent years, the cabinet has lost out to the prime minister. The idea, anyway, that all major government decisions can be discussed and decided in once-a-week meetings rarely lasting over two hours is simply absurd. It is now widely accepted that meaningful policy debate is, in most cases, conducted elsewhere. Nevertheless, the cabinet still plays a significant role. In short, cabinet meetings still have a purpose…

THE MAIN ASPECTS OF THE ROLE OF THE CABINET ARE:

Formal policy approval.

Policy coordination.

Resolve disputes.

Forum for debate.

Party management.

Symbol of collective government.

MINISTERS AND CIVIL SERVANTS

The two main groups within the executive are minister and civil servants. But how do they differ? Traditionally, a very clear distinction existed between the roles and responsibilities of ministers and civil servants. This was based on the convention of individual ministerial responsibility. Ministers are expected to run government departments in the sense that they make policy and oversee the work of civil servants. They are appointed by the prime minister, usually from the ranks of the majority party in the House of Commons. However, all ministers must be MPs or peers, emphasizing that the UK executive is a ‘parliamentary’ executive. There is, nevertheless, a hierarchy of ministers, creating a ministerial ladder…

THE MAIN RUNGS ON THIS LADDER ARE:

Secretaries of state.

Ministers of state.

Parliamentary under-secretaries of state.

Parliamentary private secretaries.

Civil servants, by contrast, are appointed government officials. Their two key roles are to provide ministers with policy advice and to implement government policy. In so doing, they are meant to abide by the following three traditional principles.

THESE PRINCIPLES ARE:

Permanence: civil servants remain in post as ministers and governments come and go.

Neutrality: civil servants are expected to be loyal and supportive of any minister and any government, whatever its political views.

Anonymity: civil servants are ‘nameless’ in the sense that they are not public figures.

The purpose of these principles was to improve the efficiency of government and the effectiveness of policy-making. Permanent civil servants who did not come and go as governments changed could accumulate expertise and specialist knowledge. Moreover, neutral policy advice would be more worthwhile than politically biased advice; it would make government policy more ‘workable’.

HOWEVER, THESE APPARENTLY CLEAR-CUT DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN MINISTERS AND CIVIL SERVANTS WAS ALWAYS MORE BLURRED IN PRACTICE:

Minister could not make all policy decisions.

Ministers’ policy decisions were largely based on the advice they received from civil servants.

Civil servants controlled the flow of information to ministers.

Civil servants may have been politically biased.

In the light of such concerns, major changes have been introduced in the civil service since the 1980’s, especially by the Thatcher and Blair governments. The net impact of these changes has been to reduce the traditional reliance that ministers had on civil servants by providing alternative sources of advice and ensuring that senior civil servants are ‘one of us’, as Thatcher put it. These changes have been upheld by all subsequent governments and have led some to conclude that the civil service now has too little power, rather than too much power.

A NEW MODEL CIVIL SERVICE

The traditional tripartite model of permanence, neutrality and anonymity came under increasing stress from the 1970s onwards as successive governments sought a series of civil service reforms.

  1. The Fulton Report, 1968, sought to modernise the ‘amateur civil service’ into a ‘professional’ bureaucracy
  2. Heath created the Central Policy Review Staff in 1971 to act as an independent  assessor of civil service advice. It was abolished in 1983 after it criticised the government’s health policies.
  3. A new Policy Unit was established in 1974 as a separate source of advise for ministers.
  4. Between 1979 and 1986 there were massive cuts in the number of civil servant somewhere just less than 200,000. This was part of Thatcher’s attack on the bureaucracy of the state, itself called ‘rolling back the frontiers of the state’ through privatisation, removal of subsidies and deregulation.
  5. In 1980 a new initiative to monitor what the civil service does was introduced. It was called MINIS (Ministerial Information Systems) and started in the Department of the Environment before being rolled out to other departments.
  6. In 1982 the Financial Management Initiative was introduced in an attempt to curb what the civil service spent administering itself.
  7. In 1988 The Ibbs Next Steps Report gave the green light for the fragmentation and privatisation of  the administering of government policies.
  8. MARKETISATION – Thus over the last 25 years we have seen a phenomenal rise in the number of private contractors carrying out state services and policies. The private sector currently obtains, handles and disburses nearly £500bn of public funds annually.
  9. John Major’s Citizen’s Charter

10. Blair’s Policy Units. COI resignations over political interference. Orders in Council and expansion of PFI.

All these reforms have weakened and eroded the power base of the civil service. Blair also introduced THE SERVICE FIRST INITIATIVE designed to increase transparency, accountability, responsiveness of government services to citizens, (Note the Freedom of Information Act, 2000 designed to entitle citizen’s the information from public bodies) innovation and integrated IT systems across government departments.

WHO HAS POWER IN THE EXECUTIVE  – THEORIES OF EXECUTIVE POWER

Debate about the location of executive power has been one of the recurrent themes of UK politics. Different views have been fashionable at different times, but the question has remained the same – who runs the country? It would be a mistake, however, to treat these contrasting models of executive power as simply ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. So complex and ever-fluctuating is executive power that none of these models fully explains who has power in all cases, and in all circumstances. Each of these models, nevertheless, captures some ‘truth’ about this thorny issue.

THE MAIN THEORIES OF EXECUTIVE POWER ARE:

Cabinet government.

Prime-ministerial government.

Presidentialism.

Core executive model

CABINET GOVERNMENT

Quotes on Cabinet

Although it does not decide many policies it is the area in which most important decisions are made” (Kavanagh)

“Nor can it be said that Mrs Thatcher destroyed cabinet government – though she certainly dominated it, bypassed it and weakened it.” (Kavanagh)

“The obituaries for Cabinet Government are premature; cabinet government is alive and kicking: you can tell by the kicking.” (Hugo Young)

“The Prime Minister exists on a diet of insoluble dilemnas. All the most difficult problems in the end finish up with the PM; and very few of them have an obvious solution. So that at least is a very great limitation on their power” (Hennessy)

“The Post War epoch has seen the final transformation of cabinet government into Prime Ministerial Government” (Crossman 1963)

“The PM is always consulted. Not so the Cabinet” (Madgwick)

“Cabinet committees are the engine room of government” (Hennessy)

“The Prime Minister is a medieval monarch living in No 10” (Benn)

The ‘traditional’ view of the UK executive emphasizes that power is collective and not personal. It is located in the cabinet rather than the PM. Moreover, within the cabinet, all ministers are equal. Each of them has the capacity to influence government policy and shape the direction in which the government is going. Such a view has clear implications for the PM, who is regarded as ‘first’ in name only. In other words, the PM has no more power than any other member of the cabinet. The theory of cabinet government is underpinned by the convention of collective responsibility, in which all ministers are expected to support publicly decisions made by the cabinet, or resign from the government. This helps to ensure cabinet collegiality, in the sense that disagreement or dissent is only ever expressed within the secrecy of the cabinet room and never in public.

However, collective cabinet government in its formal sense is clearly outdated. It goes back to a period before the development of disciplined political parties in the House of Commons. In such circumstances, a minister’s threat of resignation could, potentially, threaten the life of the government itself. All ministers therefore had to be kept on board. However, as parties became unified, this threat diminished. The primary loyalty of MPs shifted from individual cabinet members- patrons or friends – to their party. Cabinet government and collective responsibility therefore diminished in significance.

WHAT DOES THE CABINET GOVERNMENT MODEL TELL US ABOUT EXECUTIVE POWER?

It provides a reminder that, despite the growth in prime ministerial power, no PM can survive if he or she loses the support of the cabinet.

It is kept alive by the fact that the prime ministers authority is linked to the backing he or she receives from the ‘big beasts’ of the cabinet, some of whom may enjoy such widespread support within the government and party that they are effectively ‘unsackable’.  Although Blair briefly toyed with the idea of  sacking Brown for the constant disloyalty of his allies, following the 2005 General Election he came to the conclusion that Brown was just too powerful to be sacked.

THE SLOW DEATH OF CABINET GOVERNMENT

“The Cabinet’s customary role was to rubber stamp decisions already taken elsewhere” Nigel Lawson The View From No. 11 (1992)

There is an increasing tendency towards the use of Kitchen Cabinets or sofa government. Prime Ministers prefer bilateral meetings because no-one else in Cabinet can hear what they are being told.

The real engine room of government insofar as Cabinet is concerned is actually within the cabinet committee system. Typically the Prime Minister & The Chancellor between them will chair well over half of all Cabinet Committees. Where a Cabinet Committee has arrived at a consensus this is presented as a fait accompli to the Cabinet.

Cabinet meetings are often infrequent.

There is less debate in Cabinet overall.

Cabinet discussion is often dominated by a dirigeste approach

Devolution, the HRA, the European Union and other developments such as the normalisation of the use of Referenda have limited the role of Cabinet

PRIME-MINISTERIAL GOVERNMENT

As the 20th century progressed, increasing concerns were expressed about the traditional theory of cabinet government. These were invariably fuelled by an awareness of the growing power of the PM. In many ways, this process can be traced back to the 19th century and the development of disciplined political parties, enabling the PM to use the leverage of party leadership. How could the PM any longer be dismissed as ‘first amongst equals’ if the focus of party loyalty focused on him as opposed to his ‘equals’? This led to the belief that cabinet-government had been replaced by prime-ministerial government. The core feature of this view is that it is the PM, and not the cabinet, who dominated both the executive and parliament. This happens because the PM is both head of the civil service and the leader of the largest party in the commons.

WHAT DOES THE PRIME-MINISTERIAL GOVERNMENT MODEL TELL US ABOUT EXECUTIVE POWER?

It highlights the undoubted growth in prime-ministerial power, particularly since 1945.

It acknowledges that the cabinet is no longer the key policy-making body.

PRESIDENTIALISM

Since the 1990s, some commentators have drawn attention to what they have seen as the growth of presidentialism in the UK. This suggests that UK PMs increasing resemble presidents, with PM such as Wilson, Thatcher and Blair usually being seen as key examples. To a large extent, this view overlaps with the prime-ministerial government model. Most importantly, both views emphasize the dominance of the PM over the cabinet. For instance, in no sense do US presidents share executive power with their cabinets. Rather, the US cabinet is a strictly subordinate body, a mere ‘sounding board’ and a source of advice for the president.

However, the process of presidentialization has allegedly altered the role and influence of the PM and affected the working of UK government in broader ways…

EVIDENCE OF GROWING PRESIDENTIALISM IN UK POLITICS INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:

Growth of ‘spatial leadership’.

Tendency towards ‘populist outreach’.

Personalized election campaigns.

Personal mandates.

Wider use of special advisors.

Strengthened Cabinet Office.

Nevertheless, such trends suggest that UK PMs increasingly resemble presidents, not that they have become presidents. Quite simply, PMs cannot become presidents because the UK has a system of parliamentary government rather than presidential government. For instance, the UK does not have constitutional separation of powers between the legislature and executive, as characterizes the US system. Similarly despite the growth of personalized election campaigning in the UK, prime ministers continue to be appointed as a result of parliamentary elections, not by a separate electoral process, as occurs in the USA…

WHAT DOES THE PRESIDENTIALIZATION THESIS TELL US ABOUT EXECUTIVE POWER?

It stresses the growth of personalized leadership and draws attention to the importance of the direct relationship between the PM and the people.

It highlights the growing political significance of the mass media in affecting power balances within the executive and within the larger political system.

CORE EXECUTIVE MODEL

An alternative way of understanding where power lies is to go beyond the simplistic ‘cabinet versus PM’ debate and to recognize that both the PM and cabinet operate within the context of the ‘core executive’ (Smith, 1999). This model suggests that:

Neither the PM nor cabinet is an independent actor.

Each of them exercises influence in and through a network of relationships, formal and informal. This brings a range of other actors and institutions into the picture.

The balance of power within the core executive is affected by the resources available to its various actors.

Wider factors, such as economic and diplomatic developments, influence the workings of the core executive.

WHAT DOES THE CORE-EXECUTIVE MODEL TELL US ABOUT EXECUTIVE POWER?

It emphasizes that Prime Ministerial power is not only constrained by cabinet collegiality, but also by the need to operate within a complex of organizations and procedures. Power is never monocratic.

It highlights that power within the executive is more about building relationships with key bodies and actors than simply being a matter of ‘command and control’.

UNDERSTANDING PRIME MINISTERIAL POWER

The formal powers of the PM are relatively modest, certainly by comparison with an executive president. They are derived from the Royal Prerogative, which is now, in the main, exercised by the PM (and other ministers) and not by the queen. These include the powers to:

Appoint ministers and other senior figures.

Dissolve and recall Parliament (reduced by fixed terms).

Sign treaties.

Grant honours.

HOWEVER –

This list of formal powers does not capture the full significance of the post of the PM. PMs are much more important than their ‘constitutional’ role suggests. But their power is largely informal rather than formal. It is based more on the ability to persuade and influence than to dictate. PMs are powerful basically because they stand at the apex of three crucial sets of relationships:

The cabinet, individual ministers and government departments.

His or her party and, through it, with Parliament.

The people, often through the mass media.

NEVERTHELESS

It is always dangerous to generalize about prime ministerial power. The extent of this power fluctuates not only from PM to PM but also at different times within the same premiership.

As H.H. Asquith (PM in 1908-16), put it, ‘the post of the PM is whatever its holder chooses and is able to make of it’. What the PM ‘chooses’ to make of his or her office highlights the importance of personality and the PMs leadership style.

Quite simply, PMs are not all alike; they bring different motivations, personal qualities and attributes to their office. On the other hand, what the PM is able to make of his or her office depends On:

Powers of the PM

Constraints on the PM

The existence of single-party government, minority government or , as we have at the moment, coalition government.

POWERS OF THE PM

The power to hire and fire

The ability to manage the cabinet

Leadership of the party

Institutional supports

Access to the media

CONSTRAINTS ON THE PM

The cabinet

The party

The electorate

The media

The pressure of events

PRIME MINISTER AND COALITION GOVERNMENT – (See the Extended Essay and Stimulus Response Question Plans for more on this – these can be found below)

Past Paper Questions and Guided response

UNIT TWO QUESTIONS ON PM CABINET AND EXECUTIVES

 June 2009: Prime Ministerial Power

Study the following passage and answer the questions that follow.

For centuries Prime Ministers have exercised authority in the name of the monarchy without the people or their elected representatives being consulted. So now I propose that in key areas important to our national life, the Prime Minister and executive should surrender or limit their powers. The exclusive exercise of these powers by the Government should have no place in a modern democracy.

These include:

the power of the executive to declare war – Blair over Kosovo (1998), Eden over Suez (1956) and Thatcher over the Falklands (1982). Even in circumstances where parliament has been consulted, such as Iraq in 2003, the legal authority for the exercise of war powers resides with the Prime Minister.

the power to request the dissolution of Parliament – the timing of a dissolution is particularly important. A PM will seek to chose a date most likely to yield electoral victory (Thatcher in 83 & 87, Blair in 2001 and 2005).

the power over recall of Parliament  – Blair over the Omagh Bombing  – 1998 – and 9/11. Cameron over the death of Margaret Thatcher in 2013 and Chemical Weapons attacks in Syria, also 2013.

the power of the executive to ratify international treaties Brown over Lisbon 2007

the power to make key public appointments without effective scrutiny – for example appointments to the security services

the power to restrict parliamentary oversight of the intelligence services – for example by redacting documents on grounds of national security or controlling the circumstances under which witnesses give evidence before the Intelligence and Security Committee (established 1994)

the power to choose bishops – & of course the power to appoint peers

the power to appoint judges – in conjunction with the JAC (The Judicial Appointments Commission)

I now propose to surrender or limit these powers to make for a more open twenty-first century British democracy.

Adapted from Gordon Brown, speech in Parliament, July 3rd 2007.

a) With reference to the source, outline the reasons Gordon Brown gave for proposing that prime ministerial powers be surrendered or limited.

 The people have not been consulted about the exercise of these powers.  – As Tony Benn MP observed in 1990  parliamentary sovereignty is a “legal fiction” which disguises the exercise of these powers. Citizens are kept in the dark about the true nature of UK democracy and the arbitrary exercise of these powers. Not only are the people not consulted but parliament itself is not consulted.

The nature of these [prerogative] powers has no place in a ‘modern democracy’.

This would make for a more ‘open’ democracy. – In other systems, such as the USA, the legislature retains and exercises a much greater degree of control over presidential appointments which must be approved by the senate in public hearings before they can be confirmed.

b) With reference to the source, and your own knowledge, explain the ways in which Prime Ministers are able to control Parliament

The material in the source is describing prerogative powers. These are powers exercised on behalf of the monarch by the prime minister and the executive. They do not require the sanction of Parliament and therefore, by implication, the consent of the people. Such prerogative powers have existed over a long period of time and are therefore traditional in nature.

Additional knowledge includes:

Prime ministers are leaders of the majority party normally and so can rely on party loyalty and the discipline of the whips.  – The whip system and the desire of backbenchers for party political advancement are crucial here. MPs have in any case a natural allegiance to their party and will only rebel in circumstances where they feel diametrically opposed to such policies. Prime Ministers can also control rebellious colleagues through minor concessions that allow the MP to feel his or her voice has been heard.

The prime minister also has a ‘payroll vote’ among over one hundred ministers. It is a well established convention that all minsters ‘on the payroll’ are bound by collective ministerial responsibility. They must support the government’s policies publicly or resign their ministerial post. This principle extends right down to Parliamentary Private Secretaries or PPSs.

The power of patronage is a key element of control – Prime Ministers control all ministerial appointments. Loyalty is much favoured and likely to be rewarded in a reshuffle. Of course not all loyal backbenchers will gain preferment for a ministerial post but the possibility of advancement often keeps them loyal.

Since prime ministers are chief policy makers and control Cabinet they exercise great control over parliamentary business. The Prime Minister along with the Chief whip and now the Backbench Liaison Committee exercises a great deal of control over the parliamentary timetable. Prime Ministers are also able to recall parliament if a debate is required on a pressing issue.

Prime ministers can command a certain degree of popular authority to justify dominance of Parliament. This is especially true of both new and incumbent Prime Ministers who have enjoyed recent electoral success. They can claim the strength of the mandate personally as Blair did when he said he intended to govern from the centre as New Labour. The landslide result of 1997 gave Blair added authority. Thatcher’s landslide in 1983 allowed her to mould the cabinet more in her own image by ousting ‘wets’ such as Prior and Pym in favour of ‘dries’ like Tebbit and Lawson.

 c) To what extent has prime ministerial power grown in recent years?

 Ways in which power has grown include the following:

The growth of the Downing Street ‘machine’ and other sources of independent advice to the prime minister.

The are many such examples of an enhanced Downing Street machine. On taking Office Blair issued orders in council allowing staff members Alistair Campbell and Jonathon Powell to issue instructions directly to civil servants. This wrested control of civil servants from individual ministers.

Blair also took control of the Cabinet Office and fused it with the Prime Minister’s Office.

The number of Special Advisors to ministers and government was also increased to act as a countervailing force against civil service self interest.

Blair also created a strategic communications unit, a forward strategy unit and a social exclusion unit. These ‘task forces’ were responsible for overseeing government policy as a whole. Ministers would have to account for initiatives to each of these units.

Finally Blair had inherited a policy unit, a press office, a private office and a political office. These were all ‘beefed up’ to ensure strategic control from the centre.

The growing importance of foreign policy issues which are under the direct control of the prime minister. Since the 1980s Foreign policy has increased in importance. There are a number of reasons behind this such as membership of the EU and other international institutions (G8/G20, World Bank, the IMF, the WTO etc) and the rise of issues of global significance such as human rights, terrorism and the environment. All of these demand the careful formulation of a foreign policy that is coherent and which is represented abroad more often than not by the PM himself. This does not mean that the Foreign Secretary is less significant but it does mean that increasingly foreign policy is at the least co-authored between the Foreign Secretary and the PM and that the PM is often seen (as Blair was) to be largely concerned with geo-politics rather than domestic politics.

The growing tendency of the media to treat the PM as government spokesperson.  This tendency of the media to treat the PM as the voice of the government and of the nation largely stems from three sources. The first is the increasingly presidential nature of UK elections. The second, mentioned above, is the tighter centralised grip the PM has over the machinery of government and the 3rd (also mentioned above) is the increased importance in Foreign Policy.

‘Spatial leadership’ has become more prominent. ‘ In 1993, Foley described what he called the rise of the British presidency, in which he drew attention to the similarities that were growing between the approach of the Prime Minister and that of a president, such as the President of the USA. In this thesis he identifies a tendency to “spatial leadership” among some British Prime Ministers, including Margaret Thatcher and John Major. This partly means that Prime Ministers have presented themselves as “outsiders” to the main thrust of government, are above party politics (Blair was very good at projecting himself as not ‘of’ the Labour Party and its traditions) and are in effect the leader of the nation.

The experience of dominant figures such as Thatcher and Blair.  Both had a dirigeste, controlling, almost authoritarian streak and at least early on (in the case of Blair) and mid-term (in the case of Thatcher) they became the centrally dominant figures of their governments. Thatcher famously wanted consensus, but only a consensus behind HER convictions. Cabinet could not be a forum for internal debate and discussion. Blair similarly dismissed cabinet by holding very brief sessions, rather than risk having discussion and disagreement, preferring ‘sofa government’ in the form of bilateral meetings with cabinet ministers. In the words of Madgwick ‘The Prime Minister is ALWAYS consulted. Not so the cabinet.” In both premierships the most important decisions (the Falkland Islands, the poll tax, the ERM, Kosovo) were largely decided away from cabinet and merely presented for cabinet to rubber stamp. Thatcher also retained her advisor on economic policy Sir Alan Walters even after he had denounced chancellor Lawson’s policies as ‘half-baked” in the Economist. Lawson demanded Walters’ resignation and Thatcher refused. Lawson resigned. Alistair Campbell (Blair’s press secretary) briefed off the record that Brown was ’psychologically flawed.’

The decline in the importance of the Cabinet. As a  consequence of the tendency towards presidentialism, the innate dominance of the role of PM over the rest of Cabinet (the royal powers for example) and the increased growth in the use of cabinet committees (Hennessy’s engine rooms of government) the cabinet is now little more than a symbolic representation of government unity. The real work is done in the individual departments, their staff and bureaucracy, lobbying groups in Whitehall and, within the Cabinet Office, the PM’s Office and so on. Cabinet as a collective decision making body barely functions.

However, there are features which suggest a counter-argument:

Prime ministers may ultimately be removed and/or weakened if they lose the support of Parliament and/or Cabinet – this was the experience of Thatcher, Major and Brown and , arguably Blair. The PM’s powers of appointment are limited by the need to provide a balance of party views, as Major found when he was forced to include those who disagreed with his policies, such as Portillo and Lilley. Even Blair’s Cabinet has included ministers whose “old” Labour views are well attested, such as Prescott, and Beckett, and an important reason for this is the need for the PM to retain support from the backbenchers in the party. Margaret Thatcher discovered this to her cost when a rift developed between herself and prominent ministers such as Howe and Lawson. She was forced to concede to the Cabinet on the decision to join the ERM in 1990, and to their advice to stand down from the leadership contests in the same year. Major was racked by divisions particularly over Europe and subject to a leadership challenge by Cabinet colleague John Redwood in 1995. Blair was arguably weakened in authority as he struggled to win parliamentary votes on 90 day, detention, renewal of trident and education reform as was tainted by the accusation that he had misled parliament over Iraq. Brown was subject to constant sniping by former Blairite ministers such as Hoon predicting that the Labour Party was ‘sleepwalking to disaster’ under Brown’s leadership.

It may be that there is an increase in the ‘appearance’ of power, but this may be merely style without much substance. The experience of all Prime Ministers including and since Thatcher is that PMs rely utterly on continued Cabinet support. The most stark example of this is the haemorrhaging of support within the cabinet for Margaret Thatcher in 1990, but all PM’s since have been subject to subtle (or not so subtle) internal pressures. Blair was greatly restricted by having to ‘manage Gordon’ and his team especially following the 2005 election when Browns allies launched a ferocious campaign to get Blair to step down. Major was moved to refer to some of his cabinet colleagues as ‘bastards’ to ITN journalist Michael Brunson. Brown (again) was accused by Blairites such as Hoon as being an electoral liability and subject to media rumours that he had lost control of the cabinet and that a leadership challenge from David Miliband was imminent. All of this contributed to a loss of the PM’s authority and standing.

The power of the PM ebbs and flows according to political factors such as the size of the parliamentary majority, personal popularity, the unity or otherwise of the party and Cabinet.

Parliamentary Majorities under which PM power flows – Attlee 1945, (145) Wilson, 1966, (98) Thatcher 1983 (144) and 1987, (102) Blair 1997 (179) and 2001 (165)

Parliamentary Majorities which make control of the party more difficult – Wilson Oct 1974, 3, Major 1992 (21).

Cameron of course failed to secure a majority and special arrangements have had to be implemented in order to maintain the coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

All PM’s eventually suffer a loss of popularity. Mrs Thatcher in 1989-1990, Blair after Iraq, Brown after the financial crisis, and Major after Black Wednesday. Sometimes as Harold MacMillan once noted the greatest constrain on PM power is “events.” Hennessy also notes that the most insoluble dilemmas of government end up with the PM and act as a great break on their power whereas Major noted that as PM the office holder is ‘sometimes stuck between the bad and the bloody awful.”

Finally serious disunity (Major 1992-1997) can set in train a cataclysmic election result. 1997 was the Conservatives worst result since 1832.

June 2010: The Prime Minister and the Cabinet

Study the following two passages and answer the questions that follow.

Source 1: A Cabinet Meeting

The Prime Minister’s Spokesman began by giving a brief summary of Cabinet of the previous day to the assembled press. Cabinet had met for an hour and 40 minutes that morning. There had been the usual update from Geoff Hoon (Leader of the House of Commons) on parliamentary business, there had been a brief discussion on the Draft Legislative Programme being published tomorrow and there was an update from the Foreign Secretary on the situation in Burma. Most of the Cabinet was spent discussing the economy in a discussion led by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, where he emphasised the global nature of the economic situation we were facing at the moment – not only the global credit crunch, but also rising oil and food prices.

Source: Prime Minister’s Office press briefing, 14 May 2008

Source 2 Gordon Brown’s First Cabinet

Gordon Brown unveiled an almost completely new Cabinet today as he attempted to make good on his pledge for a ‘politics of change’ after the Blair years, including Britain’s first ever female Home Secretary and its youngest Foreign Secretary for 30 years. As part of a huge overhaul, the Prime Minister appointed Jacqui Smith, formerly the Chief Whip, as Home Secretary, and David Miliband as Foreign Secretary. As head of the Home Office, Ms Smith will be in charge of the battle against terrorism, national security and policing. Standing outside the Foreign Office, Mr Miliband – who was himself widely tipped as Mr Brown’s rival for the Labour leadership, before ruling himself out – said: ‘I’m tremendously honoured’.

Source: adapted from ‘Brown shuffles the pack for new Cabinet’ in Times Online, 28 June 2007

a) With reference to Source 1, describe two types of issues discussed by the Cabinet.

The issues of Cabinet mentioned in the source are :

Discussing the great issues of the day. The cabinet itself now meets every Tuesday for up to 2 hours — a far cry from Tony Blair’s 45 minute affairs. Given its two-party composition cabinet meetings are said to involve genuine discussion of policy, with the prime minister always keen to listen particularly carefully to Liberal Democrat ministers. In the lead-up to the Comprehensive Spending Review in October 2010 the full cabinet discussed proposed spending cuts at least nine times.

Discussing the economic situation of the day. Because the current austerity measures are politically sensitive for the Lib Democrats it is vital that decisions taken enjoy a broad consensus. This may be why Vince Cable as business Secretary enjoys a degree of latitude in sometime s critiquing austerity. It speaks to Lib Dem concerns and keeps them on board within the coalition

Hearing reports from senior ministers. Foreign Secretary William Hague briefed the full Cabinet a number of times on the situations in Syria, Libya and Mali.

Discussing parliamentary business and the legislative programme. Under coalition there is a necessity for this to be more convoluted. Cabinet and its committees have been greatly revived under the new government. For instance, specific and rigorous steps are taken to ensure that collective agreement is maintained:

all papers for cabinet committees must state what has been done to ensure collective approval

the policy must be checked against the coalition agreement

the chair and deputy chair of the committee (always one from each party) must have signed the paper off. Only then can parliamentary management begin with Cameron and Clegg taking responsibility for the internal discipline and cohesion of their own parties.

b) With reference to Source 2, and your own knowledge, what factors does the Prime Minister take into account when appointing cabinet ministers?

The factors that appear in the source include :

The ability of the minister –  some MPs quickly make a mark and establish themselves as excellent ministerial material.

Miliband’s appointment suggests it is a good idea to bring a rival into the Cabinet. (as did Mandelson’s return to Cabinet in 2008). There may also be a need to mend the party after a rift. Heseltine, despite challenging Thatcher and standing against Major was brought back into the fold in 1990.

Collective responsibility will prevent them from being too obstructive. All members of the cabinet, and indeed the government, are bound by the doctrine of collective ministerial responsibility. A colleague dismissed from a ministerial post could become a focus of backbench rebellion as Lamont did after losing the Treasury in April, 1993.

The source states that Brown avoided former Blair supporters staying in their existing posts, thus demonstrating a clean break with the past. But all PMs are wise to include members from differing tendencies and factions. It maintains party balance and facilitates control of all wings of the parliamentary party. Brown even made Miliband Foreign Secretary, despite Miliband being a serious Blairite rival to Brown.

He might wish to have a socially balanced cabinet. The factors that are not apparent in the source include:

A Prime Minister might appoint a member who has a substantial following in the ruling party (Mowlem, Prescott, Johnson).  Prescott particularly showed his with to reformist Labour leaders by having a trade union background, a long labour pedigree and being particularly loyal to his leader. He demonstrated this in 1993 when the then Labour leader John Smith was struggling to secure support for one member one vote from trade union delegates at the Labour Party Conference.

He might want a balanced Cabinet, in which case he would appoint members from different sections of the party, with different political views. John Major had to do this.   –  with the appointment of Europhiles such as Ken Clarke alongside Euro-sceptics such as John Redwood and Michael Portillo. Similarly Ken Clarke could not be ignored by Cameron even if his views are more liberal than the Conservative mainstream. He is regarded as a heavyweight though has been slightly edged out by moving from Justice to Minister without Portfolio. In terms of Cabinet experience there are few if any in the current government to rival him. Callaghan (1976-1979), given the deep divide in the Labour Party included leftists such as Tony Benn and right wingers such as Denis Healey.

He might want to appoint his very close allies, sometimes as a reward for past support, Brown appointed Darling and Straw partly on these grounds. Major rewarded Norman Lamont for being his campaign manager in 1990 by rewarding Lamont with the Treasury. Darling was also rewarded with the Treasury for his loyalty to Brown

c) To what extent is the Cabinet an important body?

The Cabinet remains an important body for reasons including these :

It is still required to legitimise the policies of the prime Minister and the Government. No Prime Minister is able to wholly disregard the cabinet. Policy disasters are more easily avoided where there is genuine collectivism in arriving at decisions. A PM who acts against the instincts of the cabinet is likely to find themselves isolated as was the case with Thatcher over her stances on Europe and the Poll Tax in 1990. Collective Cabinet Responsibility has to be at least partially genuine for the doctrine to be maintained.

It remains a collection of senior party members who can discuss the key issues of the day (note the source on the economic situation).  Burch (1996) argues that there is in effect an “inner cabinet” that does most of the driving of government policy. Even relatively minor cabinet posts can become important because of events. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport was in the spotlight for a number of reasons for most of 2012 including handling NewsCorp’s proposed takeover of BSkyB, the Levenson inquiry into journalistic ethics and managing the run up to the 2012 games. From late 1997 to 2001, the role of Northern Ireland Secretary was elevated to one of historic importance with the brokering of the Good Friday Peace Agreement.

It still manages the government’s priorities and its business through Parliament. This is especially true under the current coalition with the Quad (Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and Alexander) and the so called ‘quarterbacks’ – the Lib Dem presence in cabinet. Coalition politics makes careful management of parliamentary business by the whole cabinet near essential.

In some circumstances it does make key decisions (perhaps rarely), for example to bid for the Olympics or to pursue the introduction of ID cards. These are dated examples now. Austerity measures, welfare reforms and arguably defence cuts cut across departments and often need to be resolved in open cabinet. High Speed Rail is another example as is argument over the aid budget. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor are in favour of an increase but some Cabinet members feel it should be cut in line with other spending departments.

It can still deal as the final stage in settling disputes between ministers. Gordon Brown and Margaret Beckett had a serious rift over the level of the minimum wage in 1998 which was ultimately resolved in cabinet in Brown’s favour. Theresa May and Eric Pickles clashed over the likely number of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants in January 2013. There was also a rift over banking reform between Vince Cable and George Osborne in 2011. Serious rifts are usually only resolved when the cabinet comes to a collective decision which all ministers are then bound to support whatever their initial view was.

It provides important united support for the Prime Minister. All prime ministers must ultimately enjoy unity and support in the cabinet. Prime ministers who lose that support are usually on borrowed time.

Finally coalition means that cabinet has become more important in the first three years since 2010. Cabinet needs to be involved and included to enhance the prospects of the coalition running smoothly.

The Cabinet has lost importance for the following reasons :

Various factors have led to the growth of prime ministerial power – the growth of the Downing Street machine, bilateral agreements with ministers, media factors etc. Recent Prime Ministers have shown a tendency towards ‘spatial leadership’, presenting them as leaders of the nation and above party politics. This has to some degree increased the ‘presidentialism’ of British Prime Ministers. Also note the earlier point about Blair governing from the centre with a much more proactive style of central management. Also note the development of sofa government under Blair and the emergence of the ‘quad’ under coalition. All these development weaken cabinet’s influence on government.

Cabinet has become marginalised and meets for very short periods on the whole. It is not given time to conduct serious discussions. Blair for example reduced cabinet meetings to just 45 minutes

The growth of the use of private advisers has meant that ministers tend to act more independently (so called ‘baronies’), with Cabinet acting as little more than a ‘rubber stamp’. Each minister has his or her own department to run and a series of special advisors or SPADS who advise them closely on policy development. Few ministers would rate cabinet highly as a forum of real collective decision making. In “The View From No 11” former Chancellor Nigel Lawson stated that the role of cabinet was to rubber stamp decisions already taken elsewhere.” The implication, backed by Hennessy, is that Cabinet Committees are the real engine room of government.

Collective responsibility has become weaker, with ministers briefing the media and leaking information. The former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’ Donnell confessed in 2008 that leaks from ministers to the media were an inevitable consequence of the development of 24hr rolling news services along side minsters desires to shape the news agenda favourably. Ministers had increased the number of press advisers dramatically. Blogging was also increasingly a problem. The convention is that ministerial statements should be made in the house first. This convention is being rapidly eroded.

January 2011 Prime Ministerial Power:

Study the following passage and answer the questions that follow.

It is often asserted that ‘the British prime minister is as powerful as he or she wants to be’. Margaret Thatcher wanted to be dominant and ensured this by removing her political opponents in the cabinet and replacing them with people she could rely on. Tony Blair similarly strengthened his position by including his closest allies in the cabinet. Prime ministers who want to be dominant will take their prerogative powers and stretch them to the limits. This can also be seen in the area of foreign affairs. Both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown spent much time attempting to take a leading role in world affairs, including conducting wars and negotiating international treaties.

This picture may nevertheless be misleading. There are powerful forces which can be ranged against them. The prime minister’s cabinet colleagues can turn against him or her, as occurred with Thatcher in 1990. In the case of Blair, his position was undermined by growing criticism within the party, particularly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The media, too, can become hostile. Brown received unfavourable press coverage and he was presented as a weak and indecisive leader. A prime minister’s strength also depends on many factors beyond his or her direct control. These include the size of the parliamentary majority and the course of world events.

a) With reference to the source, describe two limitations on prime ministerial power.

Limitations on prime ministerial power referred to in the source include :

Cabinet can turn against them. The most potent example of this is the collapse of cabinet support for Margaret Thatcher in November 1990. But it is also true that Major, Blair and Brown suffered a dip in support. Major after Black Wednesday in 1992 and more acutely following difficult Maastricht negotiations in 1993. Blair after 2005, most notably over Iraq, but also over other issues including hostility from Brown’s aides about the timing of his resignation and disquiet over education reform

He may face criticism from his party. Leaders often come under challenge from within their own party. Cameron particularly has been challenged over Europe and Gay Marriage. Many Conservatives think his leadership should be questioned having failed to achieve a majority in the 2010 election. Brown was accused of sleepwalking Labour to disaster and Major faced huge problems with his party in attempting to pass the Maastricht Treaty. Miliband though not yet PM is coming under increasing pressure from a variety of sources in his party.

The media may turn against him. The Sun carried a headline early in 1994 – “What Fools We Were to Back John Major.” In 2008 they carried a headline saying “Labour’s Lost It” meaning that the Sun no longer supported Labour as it had done since 1997 (albeit only backing Blair rather than the Labour Party)

The parliamentary majority might be small.  Parliamentary Majorities which make control of the party more difficult – Wilson Oct 1974, 3, Major 1992 (21). Cameron of course failed to secure a majority and special arrangements have had to be implemented in order to maintain the coalition with the Liberal Democrats. This makes it difficult to maintain the appearance of unity and thus makes the PM look weak and the governing party divided.

World events may turn against him. Perhaps the best example of this is Heath. Opec Quadrupled Oil prices overnight in October 1973. This crippled the British Economy and led to a wave of power cuts and strikes. This kind of international event is beyond the scope of influence of any prime minister and there is little they can do except try to make the best of a bad situation. It could be argued that the global financial crisis sunk any chance Brown had of re-election although other factors also played a part in Labour’s defeat in 2010

b) With reference to the source, and your own knowledge, explain the prime minister’s prerogative powers.

Prerogative powers refers to the arbitrary powers of the monarch which are now exercised by the prime minister without parliamentary sanction.

Prerogative Powers include examples such as being commander-in-chief, signing international treaties, public appointments including ministers (dissolving parliament – until fixed terms were introduced).

These powers are solely in the hands of the prime minister, though he may or may not consult with ministerial colleagues or with parliament before exercising them.

Nevertheless parliament remains sovereign as it can, by statute, remove prerogative powers.

the power of the executive to declare war – Blair over Kosovo (1998), Eden over Suez (1956) and Thatcher over the Falklands (1982). Even in circumstances where parliament has been consulted, such as Iraq in 2003, the legal authority for the exercise of war powers resides with the Prime Minister.

the power to request the dissolution of Parliament – the timing of a dissolution is particularly important. A PM will seek to chose a date most likely to yield electoral victory (Thatcher in 83 & 87, Blair in 2001 and 2005).

the power over recall of Parliament  – Blair over the Omagh Bombing  – 1998 – and 9/11 & Cameron over the death of Margaret Thatcher and the Chemical weapons attack in Syria in 2013.

the power of the executive to ratify international treaties Brown over Lisbon 2007

the power to make key public appointments without effective scrutiny – for example appointments to the security services

the power to restrict parliamentary oversight of the intelligence services – for example by redacting documents on grounds of national security or controlling the circumstances under which witnesses give evidence before the Intelligence and Security Committee (established 1994)

the power to choose bishops – & of course the power to appoint peers

the power to appoint judges – in conjunction with the JAC (The Judicial Appointments Commission)

c) To what extent can the Prime Minister control the Cabinet?

The prime minister can control cabinet in the following ways :

He has patronage powers which promote loyalty.  Ministers and Secretaries of State owe a duty of loyalty to the Prime Minister who gave them that post. Ambitious ministers also recognise that if they were to become leader appeals for loyalty would sound hollow if they themselves had previously been disloyal. This in fact happened to Iain Duncan Smith as leader of the opposition. He had been disloyal to Major and to a lesser extent Hague. When he came to demand loyalty it was not forthcoming. However in terms of Prime Minsters they can rely heavily on the convention of collective responsibility. This does not mean that colleagues will remain loyal. Brown will probably be assessed as having let his own people act in a disloyal manner towards Blair. Redwood resigned from the cabinet to challenge Major in 1995 and it is widely known that Major also had a core of his cabinet who were plotting against him. Miliband similarly was assumed to be preparing the ground for a challenge to Brown in 2009.

He has control over the agenda. Ministers and Secretaries of State have to conform to the agenda laid down before cabinet by the Prime Minister. It is the PM’s decision to decide what comes before the cabinet and how much time should be devoted to it. Minister’s must defer to the PM and the agenda he has set. Thatcher was famous for not wanting to waste time on internal argument and debate. She wanted ministers who were full-square behind her beliefs. Heseltine resigned from the government in January 1986 precisely over this dirigeste style of cabinet management on the issue of a rescue package for Westland Helicopters.

He may manipulate the outcome through bilateral meetings with ministers (sofa politics). . Blair was largely dismissive of Cabinet by reducing the number of minutes the cabinet met for each week. He preferred Bi-Lateral meetings so he would not have to deal with a united front in Cabinet. This was called sofa politics. Wilson was also famous for his use of inner cabinets, sometimes called Kitchen Cabinets. Furthermore ministers may find themselves sidelined by the use of Cabinet Committees. Tony Benn as Energy Minister in 1978 did not chair the Energy Cabinet Committee. This diminished his influence within the government.

He is considered to be chief policy maker (primus inter pares). The Prime Minister’s official title is First Lord of the Treasury. This elevates him above the Cabinet and makes him the chief architect of government policy. Policy making involves a complex series of interrelationships but crucially the PM is seen as the one who knits it altogether in his fashion.

He now has considerable sources of his own advice. For any PM this is crucial. Blair recognised from some of the failures of the Major years that control and co-ordination from the centre was crucial to maintaining party discipline, control over parliament and steering the cabinet collectively in the direction that the PM himself wishes to go. The sources of PM control, coordination and advice have been listed above.

Factors which limit his control include :

He remains only ‘primus inter pares’. Ultimately the PM cannot simply govern by command. There may be brief periods when this is possible (after a convincing general election victory such as Thatcher’s in 1983 or Blair’s in 1997) and even desirable (Such as Thatcher and the Falklands). But the PM must always carry the respect and support of his cabinet colleagues. If this evaporates then the PM is unlikely to remain in office. There may be a party coup as with Thatcher or a general build up of pressure as with Blair.

He can be challenged by a dissident minority (Major). He was challenged not only in parliament by the eurosceptics such as Bill Cash, Tony Marlowe and Theresa Gorman but also within cabinet by Portillo, Lilley, and Redwood.

He can ultimately be removed as happened to Thatcher and, arguably, Blair. In 1989 Thatcher had humiliated her Chancellor, by being equivocal about whether she supported his economic policies or preferred those of her own economic advisor Sir Alan Walters. As a result she suffered the resignation of a senior cabinet colleague. When she demoted Sir Geoffrey Howe the following year this created fatal difficulties. He resigned and made a devastating speech leading to the challenge of Michael Heseltine. As has previously been noted Blair also lost a degree of authority and command after the 2005 General Election. In part due to Iraq, it may also be attributed to a much diminished majority (he lost a hundred seats) and to policies which required Conservative support to pass such as educational reform in 2006.

Ministers in charge of large departments, such as the Treasury, have their own power bases (Blair-Brown) and (Osborne – Cameron – Alexander). As part of the agreement between Blair and Brown after the sudden death of Labour leader John Smith in May 1994 Blair offered Brown wide ranging powers as Chancellor to effectively govern economic and social policy if Brown agreed not to enter the leadership contest. Brown effectively took control of domestic policy across a whole range of fronts which mean that Blair was effectively a figurehead and foreign policy PM. Whilst Osborne has not been granted the same degree of latitude economic policy is so central to the coalition that he has enormous influence over government policy.

Special problems may arise under coalition government. Under coalition there is a necessity for this to be more convoluted. Cabinet and its committees have been greatly revived under the new government. For instance, specific and rigorous steps are taken to ensure that collective agreement is maintained:

all papers for cabinet committees must state what has been done to ensure collective approval

the policy must be checked against the coalition agreement

the chair and deputy chair of the committee (always one from each party) must have signed the paper off. Only then can parliamentary management begin with Cameron and Clegg taking responsibility for the internal discipline and cohesion of their own parties.

Factors which can enhance control include :

The extent to which cabinet is ideologically united. New governments or governments with a renewed mandate give the PM an opportunity to fashion the cabinet in his or her image. This happened in 1983 when Thatcher’s decisive majority gave her the opportunity to purge the cabinet of ‘wets’ such as Pym and Prior and replace them with ‘dries’ such as Tebbit and Lawson. Most of Blair’s first cabinet was ideologically united behind the principles of New Labour. Even over coalition where ideological unity is more difficult to achieve the coalition has been more cohesive than many could have predicted. Alexander and Osborne for example are in very close agreement on the government’s deficit reduction programme.

The personal popularity of the P.M.  If the Prime Minster enjoys personal popularity it is easier to mould the cabinet. Blair was particularly popular early on and so the cabinet saddle their fortunes with that of the Prime Ministers.

The P.M’s dominance of the governing party. In 1997 in an address to all 418 Labour MPs in Westminster hall Blair stamped his authority on the party. There could be no return to the ill-discipline of the 1980s (the years of wilderness as Blair called them). If any Labour MPs were in any doubt they were reminded what impact the ‘great rebels’ of the Major years had given the Tories – an electoral tidal wave that crashed down on their heads. By all means speak you mind, Blair told his audience, but you must ultimately support your government. This is sometimes referred to as the Blair Code of Conduct. PMs ultimately may become involved in deselection processes for outspoken and rebellious MPs. However discipline is a double edged sword. When Major removed the Conservative whip from 9 euro sceptic Tory MPs, it hammered his parliamentary majority and make him look weak and out of control – the very opposite of what he intended.

Credit may also be given to candidates who address the special issues arising out of coalition government. Credit should also be given to candidates who can successfully deploy examples.

June 2012: Prime Minster & Cabinet

Study the following passage and answer the questions that follow Extracts from the Coalition Agreement for Stability and Reform, May 2010 

Source: The Cabinet Office

a) With reference to the source outline how coalition government has affected appointments to the cabinet

A coalition government is a formal power sharing arrangement between two or more parties when there is no one party that has secured a majority in a general election. This was the outcome of the May 2010 general election when the Conservatives obtained 307 seats , 18 short of an overall majority. The subsequent coalition agreement with the Lib Dems means that they occupy 5 seats and should a Lib Dem resign the agreement is that they will be replaced by another Lib Dem. This has happened twice. When David Laws resigned over expenses irregularities he was replace as Chief Secretary to the Treasury by Danny Alexander. Similarly when Chris Huhne resigned over a charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice he was replaced as Energy Secretary by Ed Davey.

b) With reference to the source and your own knowledge explain why collective responsibility is an important aspect of UK government

The source identifies the following reasons why the doctrine is important :

It means that there will be collective discussion of policy making. For the PM to rely on collective responsibility there has to be some attempt at collective cabinet government. No Prime Minister would be able to rely on the doctrine if all policies were imposed by diktat without at least some discussion and deliberation. Collective cabinet responsibility is at its strongest when the cabinet feel their input is valued.

It means that deliberations inside the cabinet remain private. Of course disagreements and heated exchanges between ministers sometimes occurs. Part of the function of cabinet is to mechanism for getting disputes into the open and then resolving them privately.  However it is sometimes also true that these disputes get publicly aired through briefings to journalists. In the main though cabinet discussions remain confidential.

It means that all ministers will support decisions made within the cabinet. Ministers are well acquainted with the idea that if they fight a losing battle in cabinet they will stick by the agreed policy. IF they feel that they cannot then the must resign from their post.

Additional knowledge of its importance may include :

Exploration of the idea of collective decision making, including collegiality. Collective Cabinet responsibility may encourage compromise and agreement. The principle is well established.

Exploration of privacy – the idea that any conflict remains secret and confidential. This means ministers can fee free within cabinet to express robust views and to challenge the views of others. This has already been dealt with.

The importance of cabinet unity, especially in the face of the media and the Opposition. Divided governments are rarely successful at the ballot box – Major 1997 is a case in point.

Government is strengthened by being able to rely on the ‘payroll vote’.

It can underpin prime ministerial power by silencing internal critics.

c) How important is the cabinet?

The importance of cabinet can be seen in the following terms:

It acts as the ‘clearing house’ for proposed government policy. Collective Responsibility, settling disputes and handling politically controversial topics or policies central to the government’s programme (e.g. austerity) are all indications that cabinet remains important. This is particularly so under coalition where there are senior Ministers with distinctive ideological traditions such as Cable and Osborne.

It grants official authority to government policy. Collective Responsibility can only be maintained where Ministers who disagree with a policy ultimately accept the authority of cabinet

It deals with disputes between ministers.  Gordon Brown and Margaret Beckett had a serious rift over the level of the minimum wage in 1998 which was ultimately resolved in cabinet in Brown’s favour. Theresa May and Eric Pickles clashed over the likely number of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants in January 2013. There was also a rift over banking reform between Vince Cable and George Osborne in 2011. Serious rifts are usually only resolved when the cabinet comes to a collective decision which all ministers are then bound to support whatever their initial view was.

It may deal with emergencies or crises (COBRA may be included). COBRA stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A for example the July 2005 London Bombings. It will usually be staffed by the heads of the various intelligence agencies, the PM and Deputy PM, The Home Secretary, The Foreign Secretary and Chief Commander of the Metropolitan Police. Occasionally the Joints Chief of Staff (The heads of the Army Navy and Air Force) May be in attendance. Cabinet as a whole would be briefed on developments.

It manages government business and the presentation of policy.

Under coalition it reconciles the differences between coalition partners and may establish appropriate ‘agreements to differ’. Under coalition this is important. There will be numerous opportunities for disagreement. Each party recognises that at least for now maintaining the coalition and good working relations between the parties is important for BOTH parties.

It also has the potential power to overrule the prime minister or even remove him/her. In 1981 Mrs Thatcher, not yet at the height of her power, was overruled on no fewer than six separate occasions by Cabinet on issues such as public sector pension, trade union reforms and subsidies to the inner cities (Source Hugo Young, The Guardian)

However the importance of cabinet may have been diminished in the following ways :

Prime ministerial domination (arguably dual domination under coalition) has marginalised cabinet. After a series of bad headlines over policy u-turns Cameron has now adopted a more centrally controlled policy grip. 

Increasingly policy is being made elsewhere, by party leaders, think tanks, policy committees or units and private advisers. In The View from No 11, former Chancellor Nigel Lawson said that Cabinet’s role was to rubber stamp decisions already made elsewhere. In this respect he was referring in the main to special advisers, bilateral meetings and cabinet Committees

Cabinet meets for less time than in the past and tends to be merely a rubber stamp for policy made elsewhere. Blair had very short cabinet meetings of perhaps just up to 45 minutes.

January 2013 – Prime Ministerial Power

Study the following passage and answer the questions that follow.

The decision to introduce fixed-term Parliaments was one of the key features of the coalition agreement between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties in 2010. The policy was, in due course, enacted through the Fixed-Term Parliament Act, 2011. The introduction of fixed-term Parliaments had long been advocated by the Liberal Democrats. It is often claimed that the reform will reduce prime ministerial power, because it means that prime ministers are no longer able to use their prerogative power to dissolve Parliament and call a general election when events turn in their favour. But a fixed five-year Parliament also means that they can plan ahead to complete their programme by a known date in the future.

The issue of fixed-term Parliaments is part of a long-running debate about how powerful UK prime ministers are. In addition to chairing cabinet meetings and controlling the cabinet system, prime ministers have attracted increasing media focus and become the ‘brand image’ of their party at election time. Some commentators have gone as far as to claim that UK prime ministers have, effectively, become ‘presidents’. Concern about the growing powers of the prime minister has led, amongst other things, to calls for a fully codified written constitution, which would outline the role and responsibilities of the prime minister and government. This would establish clear guidelines for the exercise of prime ministerial powers, rather than allowing the prime minister to determine his or her own role as he or she sees fit.

Source: Edexcel, 12 October 2011.

(a) With reference to the source, describe how the introduction of fixed-term Parliaments affects prime ministerial power.

The source refers to two ways in which prime ministerial power is affected :

He cannot call an election when events are in his party’s favour.  Prior to this  reform it was held to be one the PM’s major advantages over the opposition. Thatcher and Blair elected on each occasion of choosing to favour four year terms. Callaghan on the other hand 1979 and Brown, 2010 allowed the parliament to run a full term and subsequently lost. Thatcher and Blair successfully exercised this power in 1983, 1987 and 2001& 2005 respectively. If the economy is favourable or there has been a foreign policy success Prime Ministers will look closely at the polls and seek re-election. Fixed term elections have removed this possibility.

Second he can plan his programme in the knowledge of when the next election will be held. It is assumed that fixed term parliaments prevent the PM from managing  the economic cycle to his electoral advantage. In fact fixed five year terms do very little to alter the fact that all governments start to politicize the budget towards the end of their tenure. George Osborne for example announced in the 2013 Budget that the £10,000 tax thrshold would be in place by April 2014 a full year earlier than planned and one year before the election

In summary:

Events might be a favourable state of the economy, or a successful foreign policy (such as Libya), or some favourable crime figures.

Planning a programme might mean introducing more popular legislation just before an election, such as tax cuts or pension increases.

(b) With reference to the source and your own knowledge, explain three reforms, other than fixed-term Parliaments, which could limit the powers of the prime minister.

A codified constitution would more clearly outline the powers of the prime minister and, by implication, preventing a drift to greater powers. It would prevent a prime minister from defining his own role.

Examples of possible reforms would be :

Forcing the prime minister to seek parliamentary approval for acts of war, the signing or treaties. This was a reform proposed by Brown. Although Blair did seek parliament’s consent for the invasion of Iraq the sole legal authority rests with the PM and thus it is perfectly constitutional and legal for the PM to authorize a war without the consent of parliament. It is not widely known that the Queen vetoed the attempt to give parliament formal control over the war prerogative.

Transferring some of his patronage powers to parliament or other bodies. The Prime Minister’s ability to make a huge number of appointments across the Judiciary, the executive, the legislature (peerages for example), the security services and quangos has long been a source of concern for critics such as Benn. It would be more democratic if their were some form of parliamentary oversight and an approval mechanism as is common in the Unites States where the Senate approves presidential appointments

Introducing fixed terms of office for him/her It destabilises the country when a sitting PM seems intent to go on and on as Thatcher once famously indicated she would. Most other democracies limit the terms of office to two for Presidents and Prime Ministers.

Making him more directly accountable to parliament. Blair was a somewhat paradoxical figure. He had the worst voting record in Parliament of any PM in living memory. Apart from PMQs and some debates and bills parliament has very little opportunity to scrutinise the PM. Blair on the other hand did innovate by making himself available for monthly scrutiny to the Liaison Committee.

Reform of the electoral system, making large majorities unlikely. Since the May 2011 decisive referendum rejection of AV reform of the electoral system for Westminster is unlikely for the foreseeable future.

The introduction of an elected London mayor and devolution generally create rival centres of power. It is clear that Boris Johnson is using the London Mayor’s office to establish his credentials as a future Conservative leader. The SNP is now challenging Westminster’s reserved matters in their campaign for full independence

Greater European integration.

An elected second chamber.

Reforms that limit the power of government as a whole do, by implication, limit the power of the prime minister and so are valid.

Constitutional reforms that have already been made are also valid. These would include the Human Rights Act, Devolution, and House of Lords reform. Since reform the Lords has increasingly challenged government legislation. In the first two years of coalition the government was defeated 48 times in the Lords on issues such as welfare reform, legal aid reform and health care reform

(c) To what extent have UK prime ministers become more ‘presidential’?

Candidates should be able to explain the term ‘presidential, both in terms of its constitutional implications and its broader, meaning. Typical knowledge of ways in which they have become more presidential might include :

The media concentrate more on the PM as government spokesperson. This tendency of the media to treat the PM as the voice of the government and of the nation largely stems from three sources. The first is the increasingly presidential nature of UK elections. The second, mentioned above, is the tighter centralised grip the PM has over the machinery of government and the 3rd (also mentioned above) is the increased importance in Foreign Policy.

The greater concentration on presentation of policy.  The PM likes to be associated with the presentation of policy that will be received favourably. Blair famously announced on Breakfast TV that the government was to make significant investments in the health service. Brown exploded accusing the PM of stealing his budget – Brown had been due to make the announcement the following day as part of his spending review.

The greater importance of the ‘presidential’ role in terms of foreign policy, military issues, global conferences etc. Since the 1980s Foreign policy has increased in importance. There are a number of reasons behind this such as membership of the EU and other international institutions (G8/G20, World Bank, the IMF, the WTO etc) and the rise of issues of global significance such as human rights, terrorism and the environment. All of these demand the careful formulation of a foreign policy that is coherent and which is represented abroad more often than not by the PM himself. This does not mean that the Foreign Secretary is less significant but it does mean that increasingly foreign policy is at the least co-authored between the Foreign Secretary and the PM and that the PM is often seen (as Blair was) to be largely concerned with geo-politics rather than domestic politics.

The growth of the Downing Street ‘machine’, looking increasingly like an ‘executive office of the president’. There are many such examples of an enhanced Downing Street machine. On taking Office Blair issued orders in council allowing staff members Alistair Campbell and Jonathon Powell to issue instructions directly to civil servants. This wrested control of civil servants from individual ministers.

Blair also took control of the Cabinet Office and fused it with the Prime Minister’s Office.

The number of Special Advisors to ministers and government was also increased to act as a countervailing force against civil service self interest.

Blair also created a strategic communications unit, a forward strategy unit and a social exclusion unit. These ‘task forces’ were responsible for overseeing government policy as a whole. Ministers would have to account for initiatives to each of these units.

Finally Blair had inherited a policy unit, a press office, a private office and a political office. These were all ‘beefed up’ to ensure strategic control from the centre. More recently Cameron has decided to adopt a more centralised approach to policy following a series of government u-turns.

Spatial leadership issues. In 1993, Foley described what he called the rise of the British presidency, in which he drew attention to the similarities that were growing between the approach of the Prime Minister and that of a president, such as the President of the USA. In this thesis he identifies a tendency to “spatial leadership” among some British Prime Ministers, including Margaret Thatcher and John Major. This partly means that Prime Ministers have presented themselves as “outsiders” to the main thrust of government, are above party politics (Blair was very good at projecting himself as not ‘of’ the Labour Party and its traditions) and are in effect the leader of the nation.

The personality of some prime ministers, notably Blair, Thatcher. Both had a dirigeste, controlling, almost authoritarian streak and at least early on (in the case of Blair) and mid-term (in the case of Thatcher) they became the centrally dominant figures of their governments. Thatcher famously wanted consensus, but only a consensus behind HER convictions. Cabinet could not be a forum for internal debate and discussion. Blair similarly dismissed cabinet by holding very brief sessions, rather than risk having discussion and disagreement, preferring ‘sofa government’ in the form of bilateral meetings with cabinet ministers. In the words of Madgwick ‘The Prime Minister is ALWAYS consulted. Not so the cabinet.” In both premierships the most important decisions (the Falkland Islands, the poll tax, the ERM, Kosovo) were largely decided away from cabinet and merely presented for cabinet to rubber stamp. Thatcher also retained her advisor on economic policy Sir Alan Walters even after he had denounced chancellor Lawson’s policies as ‘half-baked” in the Economist. Lawson demanded Walters’ resignation and Thatcher refused. Lawson resigned. Alistair Campbell (Blair’s press secretary) briefed off the record that Brown was ’psychologically flawed.’

On the other hand  there are counter arguments :

Prime ministers are not heads of state constitutionally. They are limited by party, cabinet and parliament. Ultimately the PM cannot simply govern by command. There may be brief periods when this is possible (after a convincing general election victory such as Thatcher’s in 1983 or Blair’s in 1997) and even desirable (Such as Thatcher and the Falklands). But the PM must always carry the respect and support of his cabinet colleagues. If this evaporates then the PM is unlikely to remain in office. There may be a party coup as with Thatcher or a general build up of pressure as with Blair.

The government may suffer defeats in parliament as Blair did over 90 Day detention with charge or Thatcher did over Sunday Trading and Student Loans in 1985 and 1986. Ultimately the party may turn against the PM as again was the case under Thatcher.

They can be removed from office in mid term. It is very much an issue of the individual’s ‘style’.

Events and other factors cause variations in dominance. Heath for example had to suffer the consequences of overnight quadrupling of oil prices. This effectively finished his premiership. Brown could do little against the global financial crisis. Blair’s reputation was heavily damaged by the revelation that Saddam did not possess WMD, the chief reason for going to war in the first place.

Essays on Prime Ministerial Power

January 2010: To what extent does the prime minister dominate the political system in the UK? (40 marks)

Evidence that the prime minister does dominate the system can include :

The argument that, as cabinet has declined, so has the power of the P.M. increased. Note less cabinet meetings and shorter duration.

Evidence of recent dominant prime ministers – Thatcher, Blair (Brown not at first, but then took over single handed management of the financial and economic crisis after 2007).

Growth of the Number 10 ‘machine’.

Tendency of media to see the P.M. as spokesperson for the whole government.

Weakness of parliament and ability of P.M. to force through his legislation

Dominance of the P.M. in increasingly important international affairs – note attendance at many world meetings etc. and importance of foreign policy since the 1980s. This enhances the P.M’s authority.

Counter arguments to this analysis might include :

Prime Ministers are only as powerful as circumstances allow them to be – note Major and the early Brown or late Blair. Size of parliamentary majority, economic and political context, media attitudes, strength of Opposition.

Dominance may also depend on the personality of the P.M. (Major).

Parliament has become increasingly active – note its obstruction of terrorist suspect detention without trial, super-casinos etc.

Note the argument that this is about ‘style’ and not substance.

P.M. can still be overruled by Cabinet and cannot force policies through powerful, reluctant colleagues.

June 2011: Is the UK Prime Minister now effectively a president? (40 Marks)

The arguments to suggest he is a president include –

the increasing use of prerogative powers especially in the field of foreign affairs and war,

the growth of the Downing Street machine,

the use of the media, concentration of the media on the prime minister as a separate leader,

growth of spatial leadership and the presidential style of the prime minister.

Much evidence is available from several recent prime ministers.

Countervailing evidence is that the prime minister is not head of state and, strictly, has no separate popular mandate as a president does.

However, the prime minister does appear to act as representative of the nation at times (e.g. over security, national crises etc.) rather than as narrow partisan leader.

Note the limitations which presidents do not have – the cabinet as a collective body and parliament in particular.

Understanding that prime ministers may adopt a presidential style while there is relatively little substance.

Use of examples of such limitations and style issues in relation to Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown.

January 2012: Are UK prime ministers as powerful as is sometimes claimed? (40 Marks)

The conventional view of prime ministerial power includes the following issues :

They enjoy multiple sources of authority, including their party, the electorate, prerogative powers and parliament.

They dominate the political agenda of the government.

They dominate cabinet government.

They are able to take advantage of extensive prerogative powers, notably in foreign policy terms.

They have extensive patronage.

They are treated as spokespeople for government by the media.

They often have developed a presidential ‘style’.

The experience of prime ministers is likely to include illustrations from the premierships of Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron.

The evidence from past premierships that the prime minister may not be as a powerful as is commonly believed, may include the following :

Power may depend on the size and security of their parliamentary majority (Major, Cameron).

Events are a key element in prime ministerial authority, and therefore power (Blair and Iraq, Brown and the financial crisis).

The prime minister may not enjoy a dominant personality and/or may lose the confidence of the media and the electorate (Brown, Major).

Coalition means the prime minister must share some power with the coalition partner (Cameron).

All prime ministers may be removed from office by their party or by parliament (Thatcher, Blair).

Prime ministers must carry cabinet with them and may not be able to do so (Thatcher – poll tax – Major – Maastricht).

June 2013

Has the experience of coalition government strengthened or weakened prime ministerial power? (40 Marks)

June 2014

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June 2015

To what extent modern Prime Ministers presidents in all but name?

June 2016Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 12.33.12 PM.png

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5 thoughts on “Executives (Prime Minister, Cabinet & The Core Executive)

    • Thank you Synthia

      Glad you find it useful…I have more updating to do but will keep going and should have a completely revamped and refreshed site soon.

    • I’m pleased to hear this Ronah. Please do keep using the site and ask any questions you may have. However, hopefully, the site will provide you with all the info you need.

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