The Extent of the Prime Minister's Power and Authority

The Extent of the Prime Minister's Power and Authority

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The Extent of the Prime Minister's Power and Authority

In society today people think that the most powerful person in the
British government system is the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. However,
to what extent does he have power and authority? The Prime Minister
doesn’t govern the country alone; the Cabinet as a whole discuss most
matters. You could then say that we have Cabinet government as they do
supposedly collectively make decisions on matters. The position
however of power in one government may differ from that of another,
Margaret Thatcher for example rarely used Cabinet at all, John Major
on the other hand used it regularly and considered there opinions
vital in the decision making process.

Cabinet government can operate in a number of ways, depending on the
particular Prime Minister, the government, the nature of the policy
issues under consideration and the political circumstances. The
traditional view is that the Cabinet is the seat of power in terms of
policy initiation and decision-making. Cabinet doesn’t just decide
all-important issues; it also controls government policy as a whole.
Walter Bagehot regarded the Cabinet “as the crucial institution of
government” describing it as the “efficient secret”. The assumption
behind the traditional view is that Cabinet minister’s meet together
to discuss all major issues of policy before coming to a collective
decision, which then binds all members of government. Some critics
have argued that Cabinet committees enhance the power of the Prime
Minister; to Harold Wilson this was a simplistic view. Cabinet
committees make government more effective and prevent the Cabinet
being caught up in detail. Wilson said that it did not increase prime
ministerial power since it would be difficult to ignore a decision
made by a committee of Cabinet colleagues.

The argument that Cabinet government has declined in the UK is not
accepted. Arguments have been put forward to back this up. These are
that the style or character of individual Prime Ministers has a
bearing on the extent to which they wish to exercise plan or resort to

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the teamwork of Cabinet government to decide major policy issues.
Prime Ministers need to be wary of conduct, which is viewed as
overbearing by their Cabinet colleagues. Although the Cabinet’s role
has changed, it retains a number of key functions, which are - A
mechanism for the government to be aware of key political issues, the
cabinet also provides the semblance of a unified government involved
in collective decision making, it may also act as a final court of
appeal to arbitrate deputes between ministers.

Arguments suggest that the role of Cabinet has been reduced and that
its purpose is merely to just agree with decisions made elsewhere.
Recent trends have shown prime ministerial dominance over Cabinet
government. Fewer and shorter meetings of Cabinet and fewer Cabinet
papers. The expansion and increased status of the Prime Minister’s
office. The impact of British membership of the EU on top
decision-making has strengthened the prime minister’s hand and
weakened Cabinet. The prime minister’s position at the centre of the
Cabinet committee system enhances his or her power.

Some people have argued that the British system of government has
evolved towards prime ministerial government or even ‘presidential’
government. The Prime Minister’s powers to dismiss or appoint
ministers, control government business, command over government
information and publicity. The Prime Minister has a direct
relationship with all ministers and expects to be informed about all
new policy initiatives, which makes it possible to get rid of those
he/she dislikes. A Prime Minister can intervene selectively over the
entire field of policymaking; the cabinet can deal with the material,
which is put before it. The Prime Minister presides over the Cabinet
and is responsible for the allocation of functions among ministers and
informs the Queen at regular meetings of the general business. The
Prime Minister’s other responsibilities include recommending a number
of appointments to the Queen.

Recent events suggest that the British Prime Minister is becoming
‘presidential’. During the 1980’s, this was associated with Margaret
Thatcher. It was not then thought of until present day as Tony Blair
also fits into the category. Tony Blair doesn’t use his Cabinet often
enough. He is in complete control of the present British government.
He has such a majority within the House of Commons that he can really
do as he pleases. Foley 1994 ‘in order to maximise the point of
executive centralism, references were often made to the comparability
of the British Prime Minister with the American Presidency. The
association of the personal authority of the Prime Minister as the
“focal point of the modern Cabinet” and the evident individual stature
of an American President proved too close and too appealing a linkage
to ignore.’

Under Tony Blair, the Cabinet meets once a week and meetings are
brief. Cabinet committees are also less important. Blair prefers
bilaterals. Some commentators argue that Blair is more like a
president than a Prime Minister. Cabinet government has been decaying
for a long time. It can be argued that Blair is different from his
predecessors only because he makes no deception of governing like a
Prime Minister.

Whether the death of Cabinet government is a bad or not, it would be
difficult to bring it up to speed. Ministers are too busy to take a
detailed interest in the whole range of government policy. Because of
the media fixations with party leaders, the political fortunes of the
whole party depend almost entirely on the popularity of the Prime
Minister, which at present moment is high.

Prime Minister, Tony Blair has an enormous majority in the commons; he
is popular in the country and with others abroad. I would say that we
have Prime Ministerial government, basically what Tony Blair wants,
Tony Blair gets, he is becoming presidential.
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