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The Office Of Prime Minister Politics Essay

Info: 1665 words (7 pages) Essay
Published: 1st Jan 2015 in Politics

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Presidentialism is a form of constitutional rule in which a single chief executive governs using the authority derived from popular election with an independent legislature. [4] The president of a country is the head of state, internally and externally. He directs the government, and unlike most prime ministers, also serves as the ceremonial head of state. [5] However, the UK prime minister, despite being appointed by the Monarch has over the years usurped the role of the monarch as the head of state, above the party. [6] This is a new role which the media spotlight has bestowed upon Prime Ministers when their behaviour or that of their families is judged appropriate or not. The Royal Family, as national figures declined, and the role of Prime Ministers and their families has strengthened. In the past, the Prime Minister might have been well known but few would have heard him speak. The globalization of media, in particular, has turned the head of government into a household figure nationwide. Even if the Prime Minister were not wholly in charge of their governments, their “media profile generally made it appear as if they were, even better known than the biggest film stars”. [7] For example, Prime Minister Tony Blair delivered the speech on the death of Princess Diana on 31st August 1997, which many would have thought it to be more appropriate coming from the Queen herself. He would also visit soldiers at the battlefield during the Iraq invasion which many saw as equivalent to US president Barack Obama visiting the US army then. As such, even though the premier is not the head of state, it is clearly more important politically than the Queen. This clearly supports the argument that the UK system of government is becoming more “presidential”.

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However, it is not because of the prime minster has gained more power or has usurped the monarch in terms of political power, but it is because television interviewers gain much more exclusive access to the ministers. [8] Public discussions and debates are now broadcasted via radio and television programmes such as the BBC’s Today, Newsnight, and Question Time. Slogans and key phrases on the other hand have become so important that speech writers are employed specially to think them up. Playwright Ronald Millar was employed and help to produce Margaret Thatcher’s memorable “The lady’s not for turning” speech at the 1981 Conservative party conference. [9] The mass media has indeed impacted greatly the political process however, it has only transformed to allow a larger degree of citizen participation and changed the way citizens consume political information. The structures in which voting take place or the method of which the House of Commons, the House of Lords or Cabinet members are elected remain unchanged. [10] Thus, it lacks evidence to show that it has caused the UK system of government to become more “presidential”.

The view that Cabinet government has been replaced by prime ministerial domination amounting to the virtual presidentialising of the system was suggested by Richard Crossman who believes that the powers of the Prime Minister have steadily increased. [11] The prime minister’s dominance over the government can be seen by his right to select the Cabinet and to dismiss members at will. He is able to decide the Cabinet agenda and to control its business. He has the capability to announce decisions without taking it to the Cabinet for a vote. Moreover, he has the power to select, shuffle and dismiss ministers, to appoint key civil servants and to control the machinery of the ruling party. [12] Gradually over the years, the Cabinet no longer acts and takes decisions as a body, but decisions are taken by the respective departmental ministers with the Prime Minister exercising a dominant role in all major areas of policy. A bilateral working relationship exist between the Prime Minister and particular ministers and once an agreement has developed between the two, it is difficult for other ministers to block it. [13] Each Cabinet member is only and directly responsible to the Prime Minister himself. Decisions are made individually or in small groups, many times even with unelected aides rather than in Cabinet. [14] It can also been seen that present UK prime ministers have become increasingly proactive in policy-making and that they have a much clearer policy visions or political agenda. Due to all these changes, it is not surprising that many argue that the British Cabinet has begun to resemble that of the American Cabinet where collective responsibility does not exist.

While it is true to say that the power of the Prime Minister has steadily increased over the years, he or she is unable to control everything that goes on in the government. He or she is subjected to limitations. The majority of policy and decisions are still taken within departments. Even when the Prime Minister makes decisions on policy, they still depend on the expertise and information of departments for implementation. [15] Whilst prime ministers can act independently and with the support of their colleagues, to do so for any sustained period is likely to lead to problems. The Prime Minister is only as strong as the Cabinet and the party allow him to be. For example, if the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary take up an opposing position to that of the Prime Minster, it will likely make the Prime Minister give way, perhaps unless supported by the rest of the Cabinet. Margaret Thatcher was forced to accept entry to the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) when Sir Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson both threatened to resign. If a premier’s party loses faith in him or her, then he can be forced out of term, while a US President is able to serve out a term with impunity (exemption from punishment or loss or escape from fines). Blair was virtually forced out before his term was up due to party pressures. [16] The Prime Minister is ultimately subjected to party and Cabinet accountability too. For example, Thatcher was challenged for the leadership in 1990 and was eventually forced out when her Cabinet refused to support her. It was argued that it was merely the checks in the system making themselves felt. Moreover, while the power of the Prime Minister may have increased over the years, his control over it has shrunk. Blair had more control in Westminster and Whitehall, but globalization and Europeanization means that he has less control over the outcomes of his policies. [17] There are also other institution and actors who count in what political scientists refer to as the core executive of a country. The Treasury is now a stronger constraint on the activities of the departments as it determines the budget given to each department. [18] Thus, what is referred to as a ministerial government is a check on the power of the Premier. Departmental ministers will still attempt to defend their own agenda and position and will seek to resist prime ministerial interference if required. However much the Prime Minister may attempt to dominate the policies of the UK government, the pressure of time the pressure of time and by other parties in the system of government will limit what can be achieved.

The office of Prime Minister is substantially different from a presidency in terms of constitutional arrangements but it is a flexible institution and tends to accrete power depending on who is in office and what they wish to achieve. Despite the increasing attention that the Prime Minister and his/her family have received from the mass media, making them seem more powerful than before, the structure of the UK system of government remain largely unchanged. It is true that way the Premier and his ministers communicate has evolved over the years. However there are multiple constraints that exist either through political institutions or pressure by the ministers within the Cabinet that limits the power of which he holds. As such, there is definitely a lack of evidence to conclude that the UK system of government has become more “presidential”.

Word Count: 1619


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