Government and Politics: The Executive

Covering the executive topic on Unit 2 exam AS Government and Politics

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  • Created on: 10-05-10 22:04

Define Parliamentary Government- giving one argume

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Definition: Parliament supposedly holds the executive to account and can dismiss them on a vote of no confidence (eg: 1979 Callaghan government)- a key constitutional principle of Parliamentary sovereignty.

Argument in favour: Brown announced a future programme of constitutional reform and Parliament defeated Blair once, has been used before in 1979.

Argument against: Browns labour party dominated Parliament through the electoral system of First Past the Post, while the Lisbon treaty and the Human Rights Act further constrained Parliament.

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What is cabinet government?

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Definition: The Cabinet government is the theory that cabinet dominate Parliament and the cabinet as whole resigns on the loss of a vote of no confidence, shown in the Cabinets influence in the downfall of Thatcher and Blair.

Arguments for: The cabinet as a whole resigns in the event of a succesful vote of no confidencem whilst the Prime Minister can be seen as a member of the cabinet with more authority. The fall of Thatcher was due to the lack of support within cabinet.

Arguments against: On the whole modern writers have been quick to suggest that the cabinet is not in charge, the executive can reshuffle the cabinet to fill it with his own supporters. For example Brown conducted a broad cabinet reshuffle upon becoming Prime Minister maintaining the loyalty of key Blairites such as David Miliband who he promoted to foreign secretary.

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What is Prime Ministerial/Presidential government?

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Definition: The view from Labour statesman and academic Richard Crossman that Britain is no longer a cabinet government as the PM frequently bypasses it when making decisions and is clearly much more powerful then the other cabinet members and can be described as Presidential.

Argument in favour: Recent Prime Ministers have implied that they are more like a US President (forming cabinets on their own), when looking at Tony Blair and Margret Thatcher this view obviously looks plausible.

Argument against: Critics would point to the fall of both Tony Blair and Margret Thatcher and the less dominant reign of leaders such as John Major as evidence of its weakness. In addition the cabinet takes collective responsibility if there is a vote of no confidence.

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What is the Core Executive/Kitchen Cabinet?

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Definition: The term Core Executive refers to the smaller body of decision makers who take overall responsibility for the direction and co-ordination of government policy at the apex of government power. It covers the complex web of institutions networks and practices surrounding the Prime Minister.

Arguement for: Under Tony Blair most policy was not made by cabinet but by bilateral meetings with the key ministers (including Gordon Brown and Alistair Campbell), the Cabinet were largely kept in the dark.

Argument against: Critics would point to the fall of Tony Blair and the important role played by cabinet which Gordon Brown was a part of under Tony Blair.

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Give the five roles of the Prime Minister?

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Head of Government

Managing the Cabinet

Directing Government Policy

Party Leadership

Controlling Parliament

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Give three responsibilities arising from Party Lea

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1. Prime Minister will represent their party in elections- General elections in Britain are fought around the image of party leaders with party's usually loyal to a leader if they win. For example this was the case with Tony Blair who rejected the old Labour approach of nationalisation and high taxation.

2. Prime Minister will lead party conferences- Outside of Parliament the Prime Minister will work closely in running the party with officials in London. For example Brown used the party conference in 2009 to rally support after plots against his leadership.

3. Prime Minister will lead electionering and fundraising for a party- The Prime Minister will make public appearances asking for the electorate's support. For example in the 2010 General Election the Prime Minister represented the Labour party to the media.

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Give the three roles of a Prime Minister in contro

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1. Prime Minister is the spokesman for the party and the government- This makes the Prime Minister the most important person in Parliament. For example Gordon Brown represented the Labour Government meeting with the Obama Administration in March 2009.

2. Prime Minister controls the whips and party machinery- Prime Minister is able to get legislation passed which is unpopular in party and government. For example the identity cards act which was passed in 2006 received widespread criticism.

3. Prime Minister will lead major debates- Prime Minister answers questions in the Commons and appears before liason committees. For example debate on the Queens speech at the opening of Parliament.

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Give the three roles of the PM as the Head of Gove

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1. The Prime Minister can request a dissolution of Parliament from the monarch- This brings the session of Parliament to a close and calls a General Election, thus the PM can time it to their benefit. For example after the Falklands war Thatcher used the surge in patriotism to call a General election and win.

2. The Prime Minister shapes the government- The Prime Minister can create new ministerial departments, recognise and amalgamate them to his/her liking. For example Brown created the ministry of justice and the department for education was split in two.

3. Powers of Patronage- The Prime Minister appoints people in government and other posts and can reshuffle cabinet and control potential rivals. For example Gordon Brown promoted David Miliband to foreign secretary in the cabinet reshuffle as he was seen as a key Blairite and wanted to avoid leadership contest.

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Give three roles of the PM in managing cabinet?

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1. They control cabinet meetings- The PM sets the agenda, time and influences discussion. This can steer the cabinet towards a preferred conclusion. For example Thatcher was said to introduce pre-cooked decisions with little debate in cabinet.

2. Control the cabinet committees system- The PM decides what committees exist and who shall sit on them; who chairs them leading to favourable outcomes. For example when Blar looked at electoral reform the committee was chaired by key opponents (Faulkner and Prescott)

3. Oversee and control the work of government ministers- Some Prime Ministers are more inclined then others and get involved in a greater or lesser extent in their colleagues work. For example it has been argued that Gordon Brown really controlled the economy, not Alistair Darling.

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Give three PM roles from directing government poli

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1. Defines governments strategic goals- They co-ordinate day to day activity through cabinet. For example Tony Blair rejected old Labour approach of nationalisation and high taxation and amended clause 4 limiting the power of the trade unions.

2. Constructs the party manifesto- Broad outlines of policy are sketched out before an election. For example 'we won the election as New Labour and we will govern as New Labour'- Blair in 1997.

3. Give the policy of the party an ideological flavour- The PM will lead the government in this area even if this is counter to many in their party. For example Thatcher implemented Thatcherite free market economic approach against the wishes of many conservatives.

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List the four functions of cabinet?

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1. Formal policy approval- Technically the highest decision making body in UK Politics. Meaningful debate and policy formulation take place elsewhere, for example decisions have been made by the Prime Minister without consulting cabinet such as Blair's decision to grant the Bank of England independance to set interest rates by consulting the chancellor.

2. Policy co-ordination- The cabinet co-ordinates and oversees government policy ensuring that ministers know what is going on in other departments helping to reconcile responsibilities of individual departments with overall policy. This is often the key role of modern governments. For example the chief whip Nick Brown a long supporter of Gordon Brown.

3. Links the administrative system with the political leadership of the country- The cabinet works close with the cabinet secretary who attends cabinet meetings and heads the cabinet office, which is responsible for complimenting cabinet decisions as well as servicing the cabinet system in making its decisions.

4. It resolves disputes- Major disputes between the treasury and high spending departments such as Health and Education.

5. A forum for debate- The cabinet can be used by the PM as a sounding board to raise issues and stimulate discussion. For example John Major and Harold Wilson more cabinet.

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Define collective ministerial responsibility?

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A convention which states that all government ministers assume collective responsibility for decisions made in cabinet and its committees, it applies to all members of government but especially the cabinet.

The convention maintains 'Secrecy, collective nature of decisions and the unity of government' as ministers are members of the same party and stood on the same manifesto.

1. Decisions made by cabinet must be supported by all members of the cabinet even if they disagree with it- if they cannot fully back it in public and Parliament then they should resign and face the sack. For example Robin Cook in 2003 over the war in Iraq.

2. Ministers should uphold cabinet secrecy and not divulge details of cabinet meetings even after having left office.

3. If government is defeated in a vote of no confidence the convention obliges the whole government to reisgn, for example the Callagher government of 1979.

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List three ways in which collective minsterial res

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1. Ministers have managed to distance themselves from collective decisions- Ministers can brief the media off record and even make open criticisms. For example Clare Short described Blair's handling of the Iraq war crisis as reckless and criticised the millenium dome and use of spin.

2. The convention on occasions has been suspended by the Prime Minister- Officially it has only been suspended two times, unofficially it was suspended during John Major's reign. For example in 1975 the government agreed to differ allowing Labour ministers to campaign on different sides during the EC membership.

3. Former cabinet members publishing their diary- This has breached the doctrine of cabinet secrecy. For example Alistair Campbell published his diary descrbing his role as advisor to Tony Blair and details about cabinet meetings.

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Define Individual ministerial responsibility?

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Government ministers are responsible/accountable to Parliament for the policy of their department including their civil servants and their own personal conduct. They must bear the consequences of any failure whether personally responsible or not.

The convention has four criteria in which, if breached the minister must resign:

1. Mistakes made within departments, whether indiviudal mistakes or error.

2. Policy failure- when a conscious policy has clearly failed to be succesful.

3. Political pressure- When there is a period of sustained pressure not attributed to single policy.

4. Personal misconduct- Sex, financial scandals etc.

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List three ways in which individual ministerial re

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1. There is a vagueness in lines of accountability- Departmental work has been headed by officials responsible for its work such as the Food Standards Agency. For example the Scott report drew special attention to the assignment of responsibility.

2. Few ministers will resign from a position they spent years achieving- Some ministers will stubbornly see out criticism and refuse to consider resignation. For example Michael Howard refused to resign in 1995 over sacking of Derek Lewis following disorder in the service.

3. Parties are more collective and want to avoid resignation embarassment- Resignations may reveal splits in the government and should be kept to a minimum. For example Clare Short criticised the policy over Iraq and Blair couldn't sack her due to early resignation of Robin Cook.

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Give three differences in theory between the Prime

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1. Personal mandates of presidents- To protect and defend the constitution of the United States. Prime Minister gives their own ideological flavour to party due to uncodified constitution.

2. President has complete control of cabinet- The President is Head of State and Head of Government and the sole executive. The Prime Minister is only head of government and is 'first among equals' binded by the conventions of collective ministerial responsibility.

3. President has less party/parliament accountability- The President is indirectly elected due to the seperation of powers. However the Prime Minister is appointed from the leader of the party which has a majority, which means he/she is more accountable to cabinet.

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Give five reasons in favour of the view that the U

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1. Growth in personality politics- Prime Ministers can be seen to be moving away from the constitutional position of collective government through the cabinet. For example by 2002 no less then 41% of those asked in a US survey thought Blair would make a good US president.

2. Increase in the number of unelected personnel- Blair on several occasions promoted unelected friends to government posts; for example Powell and Campbell unelected advisors.

3. Prime Minister increasingly working away from cabinet- It could be argued that cabinet government had not been effective since at least the 1970's, for example Thatcher and Blair had distanced themselves from Cabinet.

4. Growth in power of personal patronage- The PM appoints heads of a wide range of public institutions and chooses regular honours lists. For example Blair promoted his personal advisor Andrew Adonis to a seat in the House of Lords and junior minister.

5. Rise of spatial leadership- Prime Ministers have presented themselves as outsiders to the political system. For example Thatchers reminder that she was a grocers daughter.

6. Increase use/power of the cabinet office- The cost of the press office has increased and cabinet office moved to Downing Street. For example introduction of personnel and innovation

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Give three reasons why we cannot conclusively argu

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1. PM is still checked by Parliament and Cabinet, the President is to some extent protected by the seperation of powers- The Prime Minister is directly answerable to the majority party and can be relatively easily removed should the Parliamentary Party wish it, whilst the President is indirectly elected through a clear seperation of powers. For example when the cabinet felt that Blair should resign he was forced to accept due to the loss of support from key figures, whilst when Bush lost support in his second term he could not be removed.

2. The Core Executive Theory highlights that power is constantly shifting about depending on the circumstances whilst the Presidents powers are more consistent and unlikely to change- Power varies between the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, higher civil servants and some groups like the security services. The most we can say is that we have a Presidential style which is 'distinctly British'. For example Blair strengthened the Prime Ministers office and enjoyed a stronger position in the Cabinet, however other developments made it more difficult for the PM to commend policy; including devolution, the EU and Bank of England.

3. The President is severely limited to the Constitution whilst the PM enjoys leading the majority party within the Legislature- Whilst the Prime Minister is not directly elected by the people and is answerable to his party in a way that the President is not, thus a President can claim a direct mandate from the people for his/her own beliefs. For example Blair's command leadership and development as communicator in chief led him to be judged as one of the most powerful PM's; whilst Obama has been tied down in his reforms.

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really, really helpful! great detail yet not too complicated! thank you! :D


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