Prime Minister and Executive


Structure, role and powers of the executive

Executive referred to as the government, decision making body at the heart of the political system consisting of the PM, Cabinet and junior ministers.

  • The PM is head of the executive chairing the Cabinet, managing its' agenda. They appoint all members of the cabinet and juniour ministers - deciding who sits on Cabinet committees. Organises the structure of government and can both merge and abolish departments.
  • The Cabinet consists of 20-23 senior ministers, like those who hold titile secretary of state, many who aren't members of the cabinet but attend meetings. Administrative support in delivering policy is provided by the Cabinet Office, headed by Cabinet Secretary - decisions taken in Cabinet cimmittees deal with particular areas of policy.
  • Government departments are responsible for an area of policy, like the Ministry of Defence etc. They are headed by Cabinet ministers supported by several junior ministers resp. for specific aspects of the department. E.g Justine Greening MP, Sec. of state for education, Nick Gibb MP Minister of state for school standards.
  • Semi-independent bodies carry out some of the functions of gov. departments - DVLA is overseen by the Department for Transport.

Ministers of state are senior to parliamentary under sec. of state, The department has a junior minister to represent the house of lords

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Main roles of the executive

Executive decides how country is run, represents the UK abroad and manages the defence of the country, responsible for public services - National Health Service - yet some functions have been decentralised since devolution.

  • The executive introduce proposals for new laws or amendements - or introduce leg. to contend with emergencies and amend existing statutes to bring the UK in line with international laws (doctors mandate), will announce these at the start of each parliamentary session in the queens speech, read out to monarch and both houses yet written by the government. This was seen in May 2015, reflecting the priorities of the Conservatives with a EU refurendum, English Votes for English Laws and legislation to protect essential public services. Before introducing legislation, Ministers will consult with interested paties - 2015 tories undertook consultation on proposal to introdunce an apprenticeship levy.
  • The gov. has to raise revenue for funding of public services and to mee spending priorities, budget is created by chancellor of the exchequer (Phillip Hammond) and is revealed to rest of Cabinet before delivery. If a new government comes to power, it will introduce their own budget - 2010 Osbournes torie budget only 90 days after Labour's was announced. While budget was usually presented to Commons in March, It was moved to November in 2017 as a way to produce clarity for future business amongst the Brexit uncertainty of the time.
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Main roles and powers of the executive

  • The exec. is also responsible for making policy decisions, to give effect to its aims for the future direction of the country. In 2015, important policy decisions taken were streamlining the welfare system - introducing single benefit for working age people - Universal Credit, allowing parents to set up 'free schols', and introducing more competition into National Health service.

The exec. has a number of powers, many at the hands of the PM alone - used in consultation with a handful of senior ministerial colleagues and many exercised collectively. The way these are deployed have created the debate surrounding whether or not the UK is in a prime ministerial government or a Cabinet Government.

  • Royal Perrogative powers historically belonged to the crown, but where transferred over to PM and ministers over time, although many not properly defined as they are not set out in statutes and based on practice. Main powers include appointing ministers, signing treaties and declaring war. Brown's Labour and the Coalition were open to placing some perrogative powers under parliamentary authority. FTPA act removed PM's right to determine date of general election, yet this can be overruled with enough support from MPs e.g. Theresa May 2017. Since debate on Iraq war, 2003, and 2013 air strikes in Syria, gov. has acepted military action requires prior parliamentary approval - yet they have the right to deploy in the case of an emergency w/o prior approval.
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Ministerial Responsibility

The concept of responsible is a convention, not a fixed law - There are no hard and fast rules governing the circumstances in which ministers take responsibility for their actions.

  • Individual Ministerial Responsibility is the view that ministers are responsible for the running of their department, and the standard of their own personal conduct. This is set out in the Ministerial code document, issued with the start of a new government - E.g. most recent states that ministers should hold parliament to account, be held to account for the actions of their departments - they are expected to report accurate information to parliament and resign if misleading information is given. E.g. Clarke, Blair's home secretary, challenged by opposition in 2006 over inability for his department to account for more than 1000 foreign prisoners - were freed without consideration of deportation, was reshuffled later in Blair's cabinet. Fate completely depens on how serious the issue is and level of criticism surrounding it.
  • The business of government is so large that a minister cannot be expected to know all that goes on in their department, wouldn't resign over minor mistake - Windrush scandal was the exception due to how many were involved. 
  • Many givernment functions have been delegated to executive agencies under a director general, not a minister - who is accountable for making overall policy E.g. 1995 Home Secretary Howard sacked Lewis - Director general of prison - after Parkhurst Jail escape. Blurring the lines of accountability has meant civil servants were held responsible, while they were trad. anonymous and taking no credit.  - Now 2012 Transport Secretary McLoughlin admitted mistakes to companies running trains on the main line, three civil servants were suspended.
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Collective Ministerial Responsibility

A convention ministers must support all decisions of the government publically, they are responsible as a group to parliament and the people - all Cabinet discussions should be confidential. If they're defeated in a vote of no confidence, then the entire government will resign (most recently, 1979 Labour Leader, Callaghan). This maintains a sense of unity in face of attacks, there may be private disputes yet once the decision has been reached, it is binding for them all - they should resign if they cannot accept this E.g. Cook 2003, Leader of the commons in opp. to Blair's decision to go to war with Iraq - Yet these are quite rare as they could end a political career, it is more common for unhappy ministers to leak their dissatisfaction to the media rather than taking such a public stand. They may also be due to personal clashes within the cabinet - Ian Duncan Smith resigned in 2016 claiming he couldn't accept Cameron's cuts to disability benefts, alongside growing resent towards the Party, Particularly Osbourne. 

There have been noticable exceptions to collective resp., as with the need to find a compramise between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats during the coalition government, LD were not bound to collective resp. and were allowed to abstain in votes on important policy areas of the party - Tax allowances for married couples etc.  Since 1945, it has been proved neccessary to suspend collective resp. during both ref. canpaigns - 1975 Wilson saw that uniting with the people's verdict would prevent resignation. 2016 Cameron took a personal charge of the Remain campaign, resigning when the vote was lost.

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PM and Cabinet/ Factors governing the PM's selecti

The power to appoint, reshuffle and dismiss ministers belongs exclusively to the PM, with the only exception of the coalition gov. and Cameron allowing LibDems 5 out of 22 posts, exercised by Clegg who had replaced the post of a resigned LibDem Minister. The PM wont even have full freedom to appoint in a single party government.

  • PMs don't have an unlimited pool of talent in the parliamentary party, there will always be a large number of MPs who work well as backbenchers, with views placing them too far outside of the mainstream to act well as ministers and general ability as an administrator is viewed as one of the most significant atribute in being a PM (with the exception of Brown and Osbourne who served as shadow cancellor befor taking over as treasury). In light of a newly elected PM, there will usually be a reshuffle to the cabinet - John Major retaining Hurd at the Foreign Office, giving the title to Heseltine. 
  • An incoming PM will want to stap their own authoirty on the government, while not all will make radical changes to the team, Major didn't remove key ind. associated with Thatcher instantly, waiting around 18 months, However, May was determined to distance herself from Cameron and sacked one of his most Prominent fugures, George Osbourne. 
  • Blair began his second term by appointing several supporters of the New Labour project to key positions, Blunkett as home secretary and Milburn as health secretary as they were personally loyal to him. It is viewed as politically wise to appoint somewhat troublesome MPs to posts, even if this means dealing with some inner cabinet tensions.
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Factors governing the PM's selection of ministers/

  • In order to maintain Party Unity, it is neccessary to find posts for MPs with differing ideological views to the PM, May had to include prominent Brexit supporters aftr her election (Johnson and Fox) as well as individuals who had supported the remain side (Rudd and Hammond).
  • Major faced adverse comments for including no women in his original cabinet, as it has been a norm since then for PMs to appoint a number of female ministers in both middle and lower ranked posts, Beckett was made foreign secretary by Blair in 2006, Greater rep. of ethnic-minority groups with Sajid Javid serving both Cameron and May's governments.

The Cabinet is formally responsible for policy making, yet recently these decisions have been commonly taken elsewhere with some arguing the executive is dominated by the PM due to the rise of presidential government, the PM being much less dependent on the cabinet. In practice, their relationship is shapped by a range of key factors.

  • A determined PM will exploit the flexible nature of the office in order to assert control over their cabinet, using their dismissal powers to appoint new members, dismiss and marginalise others, The power should be uses with care, After Thatcher established herself as PM promoted supporters in order to build her idealised Cabinet, yet the dominance of the Cabinet and alienation of senior colleagues weaked her control as a PM, and the support of her Cabinet.
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Relationship between PM and Cabinet

  • Decisions are rarely taken in by Cabinet without a vote, senior minister's views will usually have more weight, whilst most will be too concerned with their individual responsibilites to challange a consensus view, esp. if they have little knowledge in the area. The PMs trad. right to chair the meeting and keep cetrain items off the agenda  - Wilson refused to discuss the devaluation of the pound although several ministers wer in favour of doing so.
  • Since "45, PMs have made greater use of Cabinet Committees to take decisions, by chosing the membership or handing out power to certain individuals, the PM can exercise a significant degree of control, May has already chaired three important committees. Many decisions are made in smaller, informal meetings (placing intrest rates in the hands of Bank of England). Was neccessary under coalition, although quad met regularly to resolve differences.
  • There is no official PM department, yet the PM has access more resources thn any other minister and Wilson enabled the ability to gain overview and drive of polict across departments under his Policy unit 1974. Blair had close co-operation with the Cabinet office to support the implementation of policy and Cameron adopted a 'hands off' approach to government departments, yet strengthened the deoartment again after some embaressments, creating the Policy implementation Unit.
  • A number of external pressure affect the PMs ability to dominate their Cabinet. A PM with a large majority and a unified party  (Blair 1997) will find this easy to gain ascendancy than one like Major who's control over Commons was precarious, winning by only 11 votes in 1992. Popularity amongst the public, a booming economy and an ability to take control over events all strengthen the hand of the PM - Brown was harmed by his decision to not hold a general election as well as the financial crisis of 2007-2009.
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Balance of power - Cabinet remains an important b

  • Cabinet approves government decisions, so confers legitimacy in the eyes of parliament and the public, a minister who cannot except the decision should resign.
    • Decisions are commonly taken by Cabinet committees, who are handpicked by the PM or in small bilateral meetings. PM has control over those involved - may reflect her views.
  • On important issues, the PM recognises the need for Cabinet support, after completing renegotiation of EU membership, the deal was presented to a full Cabinet meeting. They are also important during times of national crisis, such as military conflict and all decisions are reported back to the full cabinet.
    • The PM controls the agenda and length of Cabinet meetings, They only met once a week, unless an emergency occurs, and most ministers do not feel qualified to be able to offer an informed view on policy areas outside of their departnebt and most a reluctant to challange.
  • The Cabinet is where the programme of government business is discussed and wher government departments are resolved.
    • De Jure, disputes are usually resolved outside of the Cabinet, in committees or through the intervention of PM - Cameron's settlement on the level of carbon emission 2011.
  • The UK doesn't have a presedential government de jure, even if there are similar characteristics, Thatchers fall demonstrated the significance of Cabinet support 
    • Media focus heavily the PM, in televised debates  - where there was hyper focus on May as a leader rather than the Conservative Party  - 2017. PMs project themselves as national leaders, seperate from governmetn, 20th March 2019 - May differenciated herself from the actions of parliament.
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Power to dictate events and Policy

Nature of the Prime Minister's power has been debated for years and how factors can enhance or restrict these, as there is no precise definition of the role, the Cabinet Office prepared a list of the PMs functions in 1947, which has been reviewed and updated since.

  • Direction of Policy, with special resp. for economic and foreign policy and to use military force
  • Appointment to reshuffle and dismiss governmental ministers.
  • Management of Cabinet, including chairing meeting an dcontrolling the angenda.
  • Providing National leadership and representing the UK in international affairs.
  • Resp. for the structure of government, and the number of functions of each department.
  • Leadership of the largest party in the House of Commons.
    • The personality and leadership style of the prime Minister
    • The popularity of the Prime minister and size of the governing party's majority
    • The extent to which the governing party and Cabinet are unified
    • The impact of external pressures.
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Main powers of the Executive

  • The Exec. controls most parliamentry time available for legislation, with the exception of 20 opposition days, 13 days for private member bills and time allocated for debates chosen by Backbench Business Committee. While most important bills go through the commons first, leg. can be introduced in either houses. If a gov. has a majority, they can rely on the whipping system and power of patronage (increases their control over parliament/ their cabinet) to push their programmes through - Rebels may appear yet this is rare on a 2nd/ 3rd reading of a bill. The exec. has many tools at it's disposal to strengthe the passage of leg. - The guillotine (allocation of time 1887) motion allowing gov. to curtail debate on ind. clauses of a bill only in the commons e.g. Cameron's government used this in the Lords when debating the redrawell of constituency boundaries. The programming motion, introduced by Blair, enabled executive to set out limits for each stage of bills, as well as uncompleted leg. from one sess. to another.
  • Secondary leg. is made without passing a new act of parliament, instead the gov. uses powers created by an earlier act, the most common form of this is statutory instruments that enable a government to modify existing leg. without introducing a new bill
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