Prime Minister

Sources of Prime Ministerial Power:

  • Old Royal Perogatives - Powers which monarchs had such as the ability to declare war, summon parliaments and appoint ministers. These Powers have now been transferred to PMs.
  • Head of the executive  - The PM exercises the role of the head of the executive. The PM is the principal and final decision maker in the country. General expectation that the PM will provide leadership, initiate policies and broadly influence the direction in which the country is going.
  • Head of a Political Party - This gives the PM tremendous influence over the makingof policy through the party manifesto. If the PM's party has a large majority then the party leader (also PM) is able to put his/her ideas into practice by making them the laws of the land. Tony Blair in 1997 wished to see devolution in Scotland: the idea that went into the Labour party manifesto. When Labour won the election with the greatest landslide in history, Scotland gained devolution. Many people vote for a party leader rather than the party itself. This enables PMs who have won elections to see it as the public approving of them individually and their policies, and gives them greater authority over the party.
  • Emergency Powers - Not only are specific powers given to the prime minister in an emergency of any type (1920, 1964 Acts), but there is also an expectation on the part of the oublic that the PM will act decisively in an emergency as he/she is the leader of the country.
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Sources of prime - ministerial power

Old Royal Perogatives - Perogatives were the powers that medieval monarchs had, such as the ability to declare war, summon parliaments and appoint ministers. over the centuries these powers were transferred from monarchs to PMs.

Head of the executive - The PM is the head of the executive and is thus the principal and final decison taker in the country. There is a general expectation that this person will provide leadership, initiate policies and broadly influence the direction in which the country is going.

Head of a Political Party - Gives the PM tremendous influence over policy making through the party manifesto. If the PM has a majority in parliament, then the party leader (also PM) is able to put his/her ideas into practice by making them the law of the land. Tony Blair wished to see devolution in Scotland. Upon Winning the largest landslide victory in history in 1997, scotland gained devolution. This idea of devolution had been in the party manifesto. This enables PMs who have won elections to see it as the public approving of them individually and their policies, thus giving them greater authority over their party.

Emergency Powers - Acts of 1920 and 1964 outline specific powers which become available to PMs in times of emergency. General expectation that the PM as the main decision maker in the country will act decisively in times of crises and will be seen as a leader.

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Role of PMs

Head of the executive - The PM is in charge of the whole administrative structure of the UK, ranging from local issues such as education through to armed services and the defence of the UK. The PM can be accountable for every aspect of the work of the executive.

Policy Maker - The PM is expected to be responsible for every aspect of national policy, ranging from healthcare to law and order.

Provider of vision and strategic direction - The PM is expected to provide a broad direction for the country's future.

Party Head - The PM is a head of a political party and is expected to play a major part in making party policy and winning elections for the party.

Patronage - The PM is expected to play a lead role in appointing members of the Lords and C of E bishops, and in the awarding of honours.

Parliament - The PM is seen as the 'leader' of  parliament and is expected to play a key role in participating in it.

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Role of PMs (continued)

Overseas - The PM is expected to meet and greet other nations' leaders, attend conferences such as the G20, and play a central role in making international issues such as climate change and overseas aid.

Communicator - The PM is expected to be available to the public, the media and parliament, not only to be questioned but also to communicate with everybody and explain what is happening and why.

Decision taker - The PM is expected to take all necessary decisions to ensure the smooth running and security of the UK.

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Key Powers of PMs

Appointment and dismissal of minsiters - The PM can put key suppporters of those who agree with his/her views into key offices, such as chancellor of the exchequer. The loyal and obedient can be rewarded, and opponents and rivals can be dismissed.

Appointement of Cabinet Committees - This is seen as a very important power as more and more policy decisions are dealt with by small groups of cabinet ministers. Who is on what committe is decided by the PM.

Other appointments - PM decides other appointments such as the heads of the armed services and the chair of governors of the BBC.

Control of the Civil Service - PM plays a major role in the appointment of top civil servants. This means that not only the ministers heading departments but also the senior civil servants are loyal to the PM. 

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Key Powers of PMs (continued)

Control of Parliament - Leader of the House of Commons. Leader of the House of Lords. Government chief whip.

Influence over the media - PM is always in the news, and with the aid of his/her press secretary/spin doctor is able to play a large role in setting an agenda for the media. 

Peerages and other honours - PM controls the awarding of peerages and other honours, such as knighthoods, and can use this to reward loyal supporters. Both Gordan Brown and Tony Blair placed several long - term Labour supporters in the House of Lords. 

Control of Government Agenda - Thatcher on privatisation. Major on the citizen's charter and EU intergration. Blair on the NI peace process, the economic ideas of New Labour and the invasion of Iraq. Brown on public service reform.  

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Limits to the powers of PMs

  • Attitude of their party - in the case of both Thatcher and Blair it was their party that played a key role in ending their career.
  • Avaliablity of talent for the cabinet.
  • Public opinion turning hostile.
  • Media influence.
  • The cabinet, the need to blance the cabinet with colleagues from all sections of the party.
  • Civil Service, which can prove a restraining force, especially the Treasury.
  • The Opposition - a well - led opposition can prove a serious obstacle
  • Parliament - It has enormous powers of the PM, through instruments such as a motion of no confidence.
  • Pressure Groups
  • Coalition Partners
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