Examining the Power of the British Prime Minister

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How powerful is the Prime Minister?

Debate about the location of executive power has been a long running debate. Different views have been fashionable at different times. 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 whop has power in all cases and in the circumstances.

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. Within the cabinet’ all the ministers are equal. Each of them has the capacity to influence government policy. The PM is regarded as ‘first’ only in name. The theory of cabinet government is under pinned by the convention of collective responsibility. This helps to ensure cabinet collegiality. However, collective cabinet government in its formal sense is outdated. It goes back before the development of disciplined political parties. There is copious evidence of the Prime Minister’s dominance over the political system. Fore example, there has most certainly been a decline in ‘Collective Ministerial Responsibility’ in recent years. The premiership of Tony Blair has been marked by criticism over decision-making without adequate debate. However, a minister’s threat of resignation could potentially threaten the life of the government. All ministers therefore had to keep onboard. For example, Thatcher’s cabinet all told her to leave. Cabinet government model tells us that it’s a reminder that despite the growth of the PM power no PM can survive if he or she loses the support of the cabinet. Cabinet government is kept alive by the fact that PM’s authority is linked to...

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...he party. Only that the electorate increasingly demand ‘visible leadership’ rather than old-fashioned party politics as the focal point of government. The Prime Minister is dependent on support from parliament and cannot exist without it. Other sources of authority within the cabinet might pose a threat/challenge or moderate the Prime Minister’s authority (as seen with powerful ministers such Gordon Brown and Mo Mowlam). Similarly, the Civil Services’ influence in determining government is vast (due to permanence, neutrality, Unity anonymity). Moreover external factors/pressures can also constrain the Prime Minister’s powers such as the economic climate and the Government’s popularity etc. The dispersal of decision-making power to other key actors in the core executive (such as the Bank of England) has reduced the power concentrated in the Prime Minister’s hands.
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