Limitations on Prime Ministerial power

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What helps the PM to retain power?

The PM can retain power through:

  • Royal prerogative. 
  • A strong majority of seats in the HOC.
  • Patronage, which enables PM's to hire, fire or reshuffle ministers. 
  • Sycophancy which means that politicians who seek higher status, will be close to the PM and will agree with everything he does.
  • The Uncodified constitution does not entrench PM's powers, like America does. 
  • PM can manage the cabinet system. 
  • The PM can also pass short amendments. 
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Limitations on Prime Ministerial power

However, there are limitations on prime ministerial power, which includes certain bodies:

  • The Cabinet
  • The Party
  • The Electorate
  • The Mass Media
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The Cabinet

The cabinet is seen as a constraint on prime ministerial power because:

  • The 'big beasts' are able to dominate the cabinet.
  • This is determined by their:
    • Seniority of office, such as Osborne, Theresa May and Michael Gove. 
    • Standing within the party. (Gove is the chief whip of the Conservatives).
    • Public profile. 
  • Cabinet disunity could limit the PM's power. 
    • E.g. During the 1980s, Thatcher's cabinet was disunited.
    • During the 90s-2000s, Blair's relationship with Brown.
    • Currently, Cameron's cabinet is disunited because Cameron and Theresa May wants to remain in the EU, whereas Gove wants to leave. 
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The Party

Political parties limit the PM's power because:

  • They depend on the PM's leadership, to maintain party unity. 
  • Also, parties believe that the PM's leadership ensures electoral success for the party. 
  • This is done through collective responsibility, where Ministers cannot publicly disagree with the PM.
    • E.g. Iain Duncan Smith showed internal division as he disagreed with Osborne's pledge to cut disabled benefits, and therefore resigned. 
  • Failures to agree with the PM or party unity, could bring be cataosrophic. 
    • E.g. Thatcher failed to win support from MPs in the leadership election, which led to her resignation. 
    • After Blair's independent decision on the Iraq War in 2003, there was the biggest backbench rebellion in over 100 years. 
    • Most recently, Junior doctors strikes shows discontent with Hunt
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The Electorate

Even though the PM's increasingly direct relationship with the public is a major strength, is can also create vulnerability:

  • This happens when they are popular in the polls, a party is strong and when it is not the opposition. 
  • Examples include:
    • In the 1980s, Thatcher recieved declining poll ratings.
    • In 2005, Tony Blair's huge majority (from 1997) was reduced. 
    • Brown was unpopular due to his standing with the global financial crisis. 
    • David Cameron has decided to stand down in the next election, therefore he is seen as a 'lame duck' prime minister.
  • Vulnerability is also created by media coverage of the PM's relationship with his cabinet and the people. 
    • E.g. The EU referendum will be a test of Cameron's popularity with the public. 
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The Mass Media

The mass media really showcases the image of the PM:

  • This is because they can be extremely critical and negative when portraying the PM and ministers. 
    • E.g. The Daily Mirror, Sun and Daily Express etc. 
  • In addition, media coverage is now more difficult to manage because:
    • The media tends to 'hype' information, where they turn simple problems in crisises. 
    • Many blur the facts and interpretation of events, instead of defining them. 
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