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Are the powers of the UK prime minister now outweighed by the limitations to that power? (40
The UK prime minister is extremely powerful and many say we now have prime-ministerial
government instead of cabinet government. However this picture is something of an illusion. There
are also important limitations on prime-ministerial power. This essay will compare the powers and
The powers of the prime minister are as follows: First he is able to appoint ministers and dismiss
them. This is part of his royal prerogative powers which he gets from the monarch. Second he is in
control of foreign policy and can sign treaties. He can also send British forces to war, as Blair did in
Iraq and Kosovo. He was also able to choose the date of the general election, although this power
has now been taken away. Another power of the prime minister is that he makes government policy
and can impose it on cabinet. He also controls the cabinet and sets the agenda. He also has the power
to appoint and dismiss members of cabinet, so they tend to be loyal to him. Harold Macmillan once
sacked a third of his cabinet at a time known as the Night of the Long Knives. Finally the prime
minister has the power to control Parliament and his own party.
There are also many limitations on the power of a prime minister. First he can be removed from office
by his party and by Parliament. Even Mrs Thatcher was removed when there was a revolt within her
own party. Blair was forced to resign because people had lost faith with him over the war in Iraq.
Another limitation is that events may turn against him. The war in Iraq went badly for Blair, and Brown
suffered because of the credit crunch and recession. Most of the media blamed Brown for the
economic problems so he lost much of his power.
It has also been said that a prime minister is as powerful as he wants to be. Some prime ministers
therefore have a limitation on themselves. John Major did not wish to wield too much power, so he
was very limited. He also had a cabinet which was divided over Europe so many of his ministers were
plotting behind his back. He even resigned at one time and sought re-election, which he won, but this
did not help very much. He was known as a `grey man' with little personality and the press and the
people did not like him. He also faced an economic recession.
We can also say that David Cameron does not have so much power because he did not win the last
election and has to govern in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. This means he cannot rely on the
support of the Lib Dems and he does not make policy on his own but must always consult with Nick
Clegg. If a prime minister does not have a big parliamentary majority he loses much of his power and
is very limited.
So we now need to ask whether the powers or the limitations are greater. In one sense the powers
are greater because if he leads a united party and has a big parliamentary majority, virtually nothing
can stop him. He has wide prerogative powers, can declare war, sign treaties and make government
policy. He can also sack or appoint ministers. But if he has no parliamentary majority and loses the
respect of the media and the people he will have great limitations. In general I believe the powers
are still greater than the limitations.