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As the executive

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  • 1. Politics – The ExecutiveWhat are the main functions of the PrimeMinister?• The PM is head of the governing party – PR chief• He / she represents the country on the international stage (e.g.at the G8 summit, meetings of the European council, etc.) – chiefdiplomat• The PM is head of the executive – chief legislator• Used to set the date of the General Election – now needs 2/3majority in Commons• Appoints and dismisses cabinet members, chairs meetings• Appoints peers, judges, bishops etc.• Constituency responsibility• There is a degree of flexibility over what functions the PM may /may not perform. As Sir William Harcourt once remarked, “theoffice of PM is what its holder chooses and is able to make of it”
  • 2. Politics – The ExecutiveWhat are the main powers of the Prime Minister?• His / her most important power is the ability to set the date of theGeneral Election• He / she holds considerable powers of patronage (e.g. appoints lifepeers to the House of Lords, the Head of the BBC, etc.). In terms of theexecutive, he / she can also appoint (and dismiss) members of theCabinet, and decides who will sit on cabinet committees• Sets the agenda for Cabinet meetings• Can withdraw the party whip from backbench MPs in his / her ownparty, as John Major did to 8 Eurosceptic rebels during the mid-1990s• Can also make decisions that are based upon royal prerogative (e.g. todeclare war)• Holds emergency powers under the Emergency Powers Act
  • 3. Politics – The ExecutiveWhat are the sources of Prime Ministerial power?• Most political commentators accept that the power of the PM hasincreased in recent years. This is due to several factors;• A growing tendency for the media to focus primarily upon the PM,rather than the Cabinet or other members of the governing party• The PM acts as head of the country on the world stage• Under Blair the impact of the Cabinet has been was marginalised• The PM holds significant powers of patronage• Support from Parliament can prove an important factor. For exampleuntil November 2005, Blair had not lost a single vote in the House ofCommons• Arguably the most important factor is public support. Whilst Blair haswon three elections as Labour leader, some in the party have claimedthat Labour’s victory in 2005 was achieved in spite of Blair
  • 4. Politics – The ExecutiveWhat limitations are there upon the power of the PrimeMinister?• The biggest constraint is the electorate, as the PM can ultimately beremoved by the voters during a General Election. This last occurred in1997 with John Major. The governing party must also seek re-electionat some stage, and as such, the PM needs to retain a degree of publicsupport for his / her party• The party itself. In November 2005 Blair failed to gain sufficient supportfor the 90-day detention of terrorist suspects. More dramatically, thePM can be dismissed by their own party (e.g. Thatcher in 1990). Partydivisions can also weaken the power of a PM, as in the case of JohnMajor during the 1990s• Policy failures can greatly weaken the position of a PM, as with Blair’shandling of the fuel crisis issue in 2000
  • 5. Politics – The ExecutiveLimitations on the power of the Prime Minister continued…• Parliament can call a vote of no confidence at any time, and if the PM’sparty loses the vote, a General Election must be held. The last time thisoccurred was in 1979• International organisations such as the European Union• The media. For example, Blair has been reluctant to call a referendumon Britain’s possible membership of the € due to the power of theMurdoch-owned press• The Cabinet can also limit the power of the PM. Blair’s authority withinCabinet has been undermined by Gordon Brown and his ministerialsupporters. A PM must also be careful as to how he/she uses thepowers of patronage. After MacMillan sacked 7 cabinet ministers in oneday, his power and authority never really recovered• “Events, dear boy” (Harold MacMillan), such as the Iraq war• Keep in mind the fact that in any democracy, the power of all electedpoliticians is constrained to a greater or lesser extent
  • 6. Politics – The ExecutiveOn what basis does a prime minister appoint his / herCabinet? (1)• Mainly from MPs in the governing party. However, some ministersderive from the House of Lords, such as the Lord Chancellor• A PM appoints ministers in order to reward loyalty (e.g. David Blunkett),or to promote those who show potential (e.g. David Milliband)• A Cabinet must also reflect different strands of opinion within the PM’sparty. As such, there are both Brownites and Blairites in the presentCabinet• A minister must also be talented and hard-working, and possess agood media profile. This latter point is very important due to 24-7 mediacoverage• In addition, some politicians are much too important to be left out of theCabinet (e.g. Brown)
  • 7. Politics – The ExecutiveOn what basis does a prime minister appoint his / herCabinet? (2)• In the case of the Labour party, Blair had to choose fromthose elected to the party’s National Executive Committeewhen he first came to power in 1997. A Conservative PMfaces no such party restriction• A PM may at times reshuffle the Cabinet in order to re-assert his authority, as Blair tried to do in April 2006. Duringa reshuffle, he / she might replace disloyal or ineffectiveministers, or those who might threaten his own position
  • 8. Politics – The ExecutiveWhy might a minister resign? (1)• A serious error of judgement (e.g. In 1982, Lord Carringtonresigned over his failure to prevent the Falklands war)• Health problems (as with Mo Mowlam in 2000)• They disagree with government policy and cannot acceptCMR (e.g. Robin Cook and Clare Short over the Iraq war)• Because they gained another job (e.g. In the mid-1980sLeon Brittan left Mrs. Thatcher’s Cabinet in order tobecome a Commissioner in the EU)• Financial or legal irregularities (e.g. Jeffrey Archer)• Sexual / personal misconduct. This was common duringthe latter years of the John Major government
  • 9. Politics – The ExecutiveWhy might a minister resign? (2)• The media can place pressure upon a minister to resign, aswith Stephen Byers when he was Transport Secretary in2002• Cannot cope with the demands of the position (e.g. EstelleMorris admitted that she was “not up to the job ofEducation Secretary”)• Abuse of power, as was the case with David Blunkett in2005• A clash of interests, often due to a business contact• Misleading the House of Commons (e.g. Jonathon Aitken)• “To spend more time with their family” - which is often acover for other reasons that he / she may not wish to makepublic
  • 10. Politics – The ExecutiveHow is the government held to account?• By the media• During PM’s Question Time, and Ministerial Question Time• Select Committees (e.g. a report commissioned in 2006 criticised theGovernment’s Tax Credits scheme) and Standing Committees, who considereach parliamentary Bill on a line by line basis• Opposition Days, where the opposition parties call for a debate to be held.Inevitably, an opposition party will tend to focus upon a negative aspect of thegovernment’s record in office• By the government’s own party. Labour backbench MPs have become muchmore critical of the government since the 2001 Election, particularly over theIraq war and education reforms• By the courts, who can rule that a minister has acted ‘ultra vires’ (or beyondhis/her powers)• By the House of Lords. In recent years the Lords has taken a more criticalstance over government policy, particularly over the issue of civil liberties• On the day of the General Election, when the people ultimately decide the fateof the Government
  • 11. Politics – The ExecutiveWhat are the functions of the Cabinet?• The main function of Cabinet is to co-ordinate and implementgovernment policy• To discuss and debate issues facing the government• To deal with events relating to the work of the executive, such as theAgricultural minister (and the PM) over the foot-and-mouth crisis in2001• To reach a consensus of opinion, and in doing so, adopt a commonposition. Disputes between ministers and departments can also beresolved in Cabinet meetings• To provide a link between the three branches of government, which isdue to the fusion of powers inherent within the British political system• The Cabinet also sets the government’s agenda (although this functionis now largely determined by the PM)
  • 12. Politics – The ExecutiveWhat are the main functions of a Cabinet minister?• Cabinet ministers should be willing to accept collective responsibility forthe Government’s policies and decisions, and individual ministerialresponsibility for their own (and their Department’s) actions. Howeverthey are merely conventions, and have often been ignored in recentyears• To decide, in consultation with his / her colleagues, how governmentpolicy should be implemented• To represent the Government, and the interests of his / her Department• To be held accountable for their decisions – which is related to theconvention of individual ministerial responsibility• To consider the advice of civil servants and pressure groups, and thoseviews expressed in Parliament
  • 13. Politics – The ExecutiveWhat is cabinet government?• Traditionally, the UK executive was dominated by cabinet. The PM wasmerely “first among equals”• In the late 1960s, a Labour minister called Richard Crossman arguedthat cabinet government had been replaced by Prime Ministerialgovernment• It is undoubtedly the case that the importance of cabinet has declinedsince the 1960s. However, the cabinet can still exert influence over thePM, as was the case with John Major between 1992 and 1997• Support for the PM in Cabinet can also prove decisive, as he / she canbe undermined by rival ministers such as Gordon Brown. Tony Blairhas also lost key allies from his Cabinet such as David Blunkett andEstelle Morris, which has, to some extent, weakened his power andauthority
  • 14. Politics – The ExecutiveWhat is prime ministerial government?• Prime Ministerial government suggests that the power ofthe PM is such that he/she now dominates the government.This argument is based on the view that the power of thePM has increased significantly in recent years• Both Thatcher and Blair have been described as acting like“elected dictators” (e.g. Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraqwas taken without full Cabinet / party discussion). BothBlair and Thatcher also marginalised the position ofCabinet• Tony Blair has shown a preference for a “sofa-style form ofgovernment”, where ministers are invited by the PM forinformal talks on a range of issues, as opposed todiscussions with the cabinet as a whole
  • 15. Politics – The ExecutivePrime ministerial government continued …• As many people vote on the basis of a party’s leader, thePM is considerably more influential in terms of votingbehaviour than the Cabinet, which in turn strengthens his /her position. The existence of the PM’s Office alsostrengthens the power of the PM• A great deal depends upon;– The political authority of the Prime Minister– The size of the government’s majority• Also keep in mind that PMs have always taken importantdecisions without full Cabinet discussion. For example,Clement Attlee decided that Britain would possess anatomic bomb after consultation with a small group ofcolleagues
  • 16. Politics – The ExecutiveWhat is Presidential government?• Presidential government suggests that the PM holds a similar degreeof power and authority as the US President• The concept of Presidential government derives from the work ofStephen Foley (and endorsed by the former Cabinet minister MoMowlam). Foley argued that presidential government exists because ofthe media’s focus upon the PM at the expense of other Cabinetcolleagues• Foley’s argument is also based upon the willingness of the PM toappeal directly to the public via the media, rather than consultation withthe Cabinet, Parliament, or even their own party• Blair is also spending less time in Parliament than previous PMs
  • 17. Politics – The ExecutivePresidential government continued …• Blair has often attempted to act ‘above’ party politics in a style similar toa US President. For instance, over the issue of Iraq Tony Blair ignoredhis own party and public opinion and acted on behalf of what he saw asthe national interest• Blair tends to consult with advisors, rather than the Cabinet as acollective. This method of working is very similar to a US President• The impression of presidential government is strengthened by Blair’swillingness to adopt a highly active role within international relations,often in partnership with US President George Bush• However, unlike a US President, the PM is not Head of state, has toface PMQs and faces no term limits. Moreover the UK has a fusion ofpowers, whereas the US system is based upon a separation of powers
  • 18. Politics – The ExecutiveCollective ministerial responsibility (CMR)• “all ministers are representatives of the government, and assuch, they should maintain a common policy position, atleast in public”• CMR is a convention (or unwritten rule) that forms part ofthe UK’s Constitution• In the case of CMR, a great deal depends on the powerand authority of the PM. For instance, Tony Blair has foundit much more difficult to maintain unity within the Cabinetsince the 2005 Election• Some PMs have also found it very difficult to maintain CMRdue to divisions within the Cabinet, as was the case withthe Conservative party between 1992 and 1997 over theissue of Europe
  • 19. Politics – The ExecutiveIndividual ministerial responsibility (IMR)• “A Cabinet minister is held to account for the performanceof his/her department, and his/her own personal actions.”For example in 1998, the Welsh Secretary Ron Daviesresigned over what he called “a moment of madness” inClapham Common• IMR is a Cabinet convention, and is closely linked to theconcept of accountability. For example in 2005, DavidBlunkett was forced to resign over a visa he obtained forhis lover’s nanny whilst he was Home Secretary• However, IMR can also be ignored (e.g. in 2005, the thenEducation Secretary Ruth Kelly refused to resign over thepaedophiles in schools scandal)
  • 20. Politics – The ExecutiveHow important is IMR?• In recent years, the trend has been towards ministersignoring the convention of IMR. For example, both TessaJowell and John Prescott have been accused of ignoringthe ministerial code of conduct• A great deal depends upon the degree of “political capital”held by the minister in question. The support of the PM isalso crucial. Ministers who hold the confidence of the PMwill usually survive
  • 21. Politics – The ExecutiveThe Civil Service• The civil service is (in theory) both impartial, and neutral. In otherwords, they must not show bias towards any political party, and unlikethe United States, the appointment of civil servants in the UK is notbased upon political affiliation. Moreover civil servants are (in theory)‘free’ from undue ministerial influence• Civil servants remain in their job when a government loses a GeneralElection. As such, they cannot be immediately dismissed by anincoming government• Civil servants offer advice to ministers, but it is ministers who ultimatelydecide• Civil servants are unelected and therefore unaccountable• Many would argue that the civil service forms part of the UK’sexecutive, along with the PM and Cabinet
  • 22. Politics – The ExecutiveWhat is the relationship between civil servants andministers? (1)• In theory civil servants advise, and ministers decide.However, civil servants can exert undue influence becausethey hold knowledge and expertise in a particular area,whereas an inexperienced Cabinet minister may have littleknowledge over how a Department works. In politicalterminology, this is known as a minister “going native”• Civil servants have been accused of pursuing their ownagenda, which is often characterised by a reluctance tochange (i.e. conservative with a small ‘c’)• Civil servants are supposed to be impartial and neutral, andtherefore show no bias toward a political party or ideology.However, both left-wing and right-wing ministers havecriticised the civil service for “pigeonholing” controversialproposals
  • 23. Politics – The ExecutiveWhat is the relationship between civil servants andministers? (2)• Civil servants take a long – term view (because they arepermanent), whereas ministers tend to take a short – termview based on party / electoral considerations (becausethey are only in their post for an average of 2 years). Thereis, therefore, the potential for conflict between a ministerand his/her civil servants• Both Thatcher and Blair were accused of ‘politicising’ thecivil service by holding a great deal of influence over keyappointments. The charge of politicising the civil service ismore relevant when a party has been in power for somelength of time• Perhaps the key difference is that ministers are ultimatelyaccountable, whereas civil servants are not

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