Mike Simpson, Bradford Grammar School
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
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
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
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?