Mike Simpson, Bradford Grammar School

The Empire
strikes back

Analysis of the power of legislatures
would tend to sugges...
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FPTP - Legislatures - The Empire Strikes Back

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Analysis of the power of legislatures would tend to suggest that their relationship with executives can vary according to the constitutional arrangements in that country.

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FPTP - Legislatures - The Empire Strikes Back

  1. 1. Mike Simpson, Bradford Grammar School The Empire strikes back Analysis of the power of legislatures would tend to suggest that their relationship with executives can vary according to the constitutional arrangements in that country. In the UK, the Westminster model has given rise to executive dominance leading Lord Hailsham to famously remark that the UK has an “elective dictatorship.” The presence of an inbuilt majority and strict party discipline enforced by the whips would suggest that the government is relatively assured of being able to steam roller any law or initiative through Parliament. Government defeats are exceedingly rare as backbench revolts are unlikely to be large enough to defeat the executive. presidential concerns. President Obama will literally need to “work the hill” in order to get the votes he needs. This may involve the use of the “bully pulpit” and the congressional liaison team in the EXOP. The failure to win agreement from the UK, the G20 and the UN for various reasons, has not helped his cause. It is striking that in both countries, it is the legislature that seem to have fulfilled their scrutiny, deliberative, representative and deliberative functions on a scale that is not normally evident. The United States however has a different constitutional and institutional structure. Their written constitution provides for a more effective separation of powers as opposed to the fusion of powers that has emerged in the UK. Whilst Congress is a legislature with teeth, the president does have some exclusive powers, most notably those of Commander-in-Chief. As supreme commander of the military of the military, he does not need congressional approval for the launch if nuclear weapons or the deployment of troops. Consequently, in both instances, it was to be expected that the government of the UK would have been able to win support for military intervention in Syria and that President Obama could have authorised the same without congressional approval. However, in a dramatic turnaround of this orthodox view, none of these came to pass. Cameron sought parliament approval for the use of the military at some future date and surprisingly lost the vote. A significant proportion of his own party voted against the motion which was lost with a vote of 285 – 272. 30 Conservative MPs and 9 Liberal Democrats failed to support the government. This would suggest that Parliament is more than the rubber stamp it is often described as. It has acted as a real constraint upon the government and thus shown that it can act as a real constraint upon the Prime Minister. In this instance it would seem to be more than the mere “policy influencer” described by Lord Norton. In this case it has been the policy maker of British foreign and defence policy. In another role reversal, President Obama, whilst stating that he had the authority to attack, went to Congress to gain approval for such action. This would seem to provide a classic illustration of the most important power of the president as identified by Neustadt of that of the power of persuasion. As the issues surrounding the fiscal cliff and gun control graphically illustrate, the president cannot command the Congress. He needs to use all his political skills in order to garner support. Members of the Congress have different loyalties. Their constituency and the need for re-election trump party and Questions Discuss the view that the US constitution shares rather than separates powers. Why has parliament been described as a “policy influencer” rather than a “policy maker”? Why are the “carrot and the stick” tactics of the whips in the UK parliament not evident in the US Congress?

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