Government & Politics AS Unit 2 Prime Minister & Cabinet

Prime Minister & Cabinet

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  • Created by: James
  • Created on: 05-06-11 19:44

Cabinet Government

Dicey identified a system of cabinet government in the late nineteenth century, the theory suggests that cabinet operates collectively.

  • Decisions are made by the cabinet as a whole, PM is merely the first among equals. e.g
    • Gordon Brown 2007 held cabinet meetings they discussed pros and cons of calling snap elections. 
    • The bank crises2008 brown called economic cabinet
  • Collective responsibility, all ministers are expected to support cabinet decisions in public, or resign. e.g Clare Short and Robin Cook quit Blair;'s cabinet after 2003 Iraq war.  
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Role of a Minister

  • Most senior ministers are in charge of an entire department e.g Andrew Lansley at the department of health. Junior ministers will be in charge of a more narrow range of policy, such at the immigration minister Damian Green as such they seek to develop policies in line with gov aims usually outlined in manifesto. therefore making them accountable to mistakes their department make.
  • Accountability is visible when ministers face scrutiny by the legislature. either via apperances in front of relevant departmental select committee or in MQT. 
  • Ministers face trial by media, tour TV studios and defend policies and mistakes. e.g all ministers defend the government's record on issues such as lost data, prisons escapes. 
  • Ministers of state have an input into government policy making. weekly cabinet meetings can vioce opinions on issues beyond their brief. Direct by PM.   
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Main source of PM power

  • The power of the PM are not defined by statute, but derive principally from the royal prerogative. Technically the monarch is head of state, but in practise these powers reside with the person that lives at number 10. This allows the PM to make appointments to a range of positions throughout the state, from the head of civil service. Hire and fire allows the PM to wield enormous influence.
  • PM is by far the most well-known politician in the government and their personal stature, allied with a good media image can help secure a good media image.Cameron introduced his podcasts/youtube videos before the election.Thatcher and Blair perfected the cultivation of an authoritative image.
  • Constitutionally the PM is the person who can command a majority support in the HofC. as leader of largest party, the combined power of patronage and party whip ensure that the PM can exert strong influnce in the legislature
  • A PM with comfortable majority can be said that the MPs owe it to a popular leader. e.g blair said 1997 landslide was achieved on his coat tails 
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Role of PM

  • The PM has become head of state and as such they represent Britain on the world stage. sucah as attending/chairing summits of the EU, G8 etc
  • The PM is chief government spokesperson. they answer weekly questions in commons at PMQs, and Blair introduced monthly press conferences which have been continued by Brown and Cameron 

Two Powers of the PM

  • The PM has the power of patronage, covers appointments to cabinet, head of civil service, peerages and honours, and senior levels of the judiciary and clergy. Tony Benn described the power of hire and fire as an enormous one since it can be used as a tool to exert control over the parlimentary party. 
  • The PM also possesses the power to declare war, 2003 there was a vote in the HofC before Baghdad invasion, more seeking moral authority as it is not constitutional requirement.
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Defining Collective Ministerial Responsibility

  • Collective Ministerial Responsibility (CMR) is a convention that can be described as the glue that holds cabinet government together. All ministers publicly support cabinet decisions or its committees or resign. 
  • 2 dozen ministers have resigned in the last 40 years due to collective responsibility. e.g Michael Heseltine over the Westland affair in 1986. or Robin Cook and Clare Short left the government over the Iraq invasion.
  • Under the Penumbra of collective responsibility, convention dictates gov should resign if defeated on a vote of confidence in the commons e.g James Callaghan called for a dissolution on 28 march 1979 following a defeat shortly after government's devolution proposals were rejected by scots and welsh. 
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Defining Individual Ministerial Responsibility

  • A feature of parliament government is that the executive is drawn from legislature and according to the constitution is directly answerable to it. There is a ministerial code of conduct, which is issued to all ministers.  
  • Very rare for a minister to resign as a result of an error of policy or administration e.g Estelle Morris over the A level fiasco in 2002, and Bev Hughes over visas in 2004.
  • A personal mistake is by far the most common reason for ministers to resign, but some ministers weather the media storm better than others. 
  • 1990s it seemed Tories set up a production line of ministerial resignations. New labour took office it quickly became apparent that being whiter than white was a promise that would be difficult to fulfil. e.g 1998 welsh secretary Ron Davis, resigned after a 'moment of madness' on clapham common. First con-lib resignation was treasury Minister David Laws after claiming housing expenses while living with his male partner.  
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Main Function of Cabinet

  • It is normally considered that formal business takes place at the beginning of meetings. EU news, reports from council or meetings with EU counterparts. e.g George Osborne was in close contact with Irish finance minister regarding treasury assistance. 
  • Extraordinary meetings can be called in times of crisis and emergency. 'COBRA' convened under Blair in response to September 2000 fuel protests, 9/11 and 7/7. Under Cameron, cobra met in response to the Yemen cargo bomb plot.  
  • Modern development is the focus on media management. 'The Grid' was prepared by Jonathan Powell, Blair's chief of staff, where news announcements by government are arranged in advance. 
  • Regular meetings are used to settle disputes on issues of controversy. Cabinet ministers are serious politicians in their own right and can influence policy beyond their departmental brief. e.g Blair's government used the cabinet to sort the smoking ban and update/replace trident. 
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Main Factors a PM considers when appointing a Cabi

  • PM will look to reward loyalty - try to surround them selves with people who will drive the forward towards the same goals.
  • PMs are restricted they must appoint some big hitters - an american president 'better to have big hitters in the tent rather than outside' 
  • PMs will also look for a balance - this can be both personality and region, labour governments favour welsh and Scottish members. Blair at one time had a third of his government as women. unlike major who had none.
  • David Cameron was in a unique position of being post war and in charge of a coalition. both Vince cable and Danny Alexander were both hand jobs at the centre of the austerity cuts spreading blame for unpopular decisions. 
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Reasons why ministers resign

  • Ministers are expected to resign if they are unwilling to accept government policy. Past 40 years occurred about 2 dozen times due to collective responsibility. e.g Heseltine over westland affair in 1986 and Robin Cook and Clare Short left over Iraq war. 
  • It is very rare for a minister to resign as a result of an error of policy or administration e.g Estelle Morris over A levels 2002
  •  Personal mistakes are the most common reason for resignation however this is often down to ability to survive media barrage.  
  •   Ultimately ministers will go when the embarrassment to the government of a resignation is less than the embarrassment of keeping them in their job 'Toxic'. therefore it is often of impropriety rather than any actual wrongdoing that forces ministers to walk the plank.
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Constraints on the powers of the Prime Minster

  • Power of the PM is variable between as well as within premierships. The elastic nature of the office is not due to the way in which PMs use their powers, but also due to the wider political climate.
  • Recent evidence supports the view that the power of the UK premier is not unlimited. Blair delivered 3 successive terms but has been kicked out of number 10 by his own party.
  • Events: the most important reason Blair became a liability after the Iraq war. had it ended differently after the invasion, voters may have been more willing to forgive Blair's tendency to follow bush. Brown had an up hill struggle with the banking crisis of 2008 as he was blamed even though it was not his fault. 
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