How effective is the Westminster Parliament in holding the executive to account?

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The effectiveness of Westminster Parliament in holding the executive to account relies on a number of variables, arguably, the most important being the degree of the government’s majority. Other variables include the unity of the party, the presence of a foreign war or the presence of a hostile media. This being said, there are also a number of mechanisms by which Parliament is able to hold the executive accountable.

Westminster Parliament has the ability to hold the executive to account through a variety of methods, such as through the House of Lords. Though it is unelected, the Lords fulfill a fundamental democratic requirement; as the upper chamber within a bicameral legislature, it acts as a constitutional check and balance on executive power. This being said, Tony Blair forced the Hunting Bill of 2004 through the Lords as a Parliament Act; the very rarely used route by which Bills can become law without the assent of the House of Lords. In this way Westminster Parliament failed to ensure executive accountability.

In terms of scrutinizing the executive and actions of government, the House of Commons has a number of opportunities at its disposal, mainly in the form of debates and questions. The Commons is notorious for its constant debate; the Commons can express its views on foreign policy and international crisis, for example the 1956 debates of the Suez crisis and the emergency debate on the Falklands following the Argentinean invasion in 1982. Question time is also a very important example of an opportunity for the executive’s actions and plans to be publicly questioned as the meeting is now frequently featured on TV news and politics analysis programmes. This allows Her Majesty’s Royal Opposition to challenge the exec...

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...therefore did not have a huge majority or popularity within the House of Commons, he was openly criticized by an increasingly hostile media as well as some of his own MPs indicating a lack of unity within his party which eventually lost him the general election by quite some margin.

To conclude, our parliamentary system is hugely problematic in holding the executive to account. At times Westminster Parliament is very effective in holding the executive accountable by use of scrutiny and various other mechanisms. However, this is not necessarily the case in times of huge majorities in favour of the executive such as in the cases of Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher. In short, the effectiveness of Westminster Parliament depends on the situation in terms of (the biggest factor being) degree of majority, presence of war, unity of the party and hostility of the media.
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