Prime Minister and His Cabinet

Unit 2 Prime Minister and Cabinet.

More to come, all my own notes from studying Government and Politics last year. 

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Cabinet Government

Dicey identified a system of cabinet government in the late 19th Century, the theory suggests that cabinet operates collectively.

  • Decisions are made by the cabinet as a whole. PM is merely the first among equals for example: 
  • Gordon Brown 2007: held cabinet meetings which discussed pros and cons of calling snap elections
  • Gordon Brown 2008: Banking crisis, called economic cabinet meetings
  • Collective Responsibility - all ministers are expected to support cabinet decisions in public, or resign - e.g Clare Short and Robin Cook resigned 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 Jeremy Hunt at the Department of Health. Junior ministers will be in charge of a more narrow range of policy, such as the immigartion minister Mark Harper as such they seek to develop policies in line with government aims usually outlined in their manifesto, therefore making them accountable to mistakes their department make. 

Accountability is visible when ministers face scrutiny by the legislature, either via appearances in front of relevant departmental select committees or PMQT 

Ministers face trial by media, tour TV studios and defend polices and mistakes e.g all ministers defend the governments record on issues such as lost data, prison escapes etc

Ministers of state have an input into government policy making, weekly cabinet meetings and can voice their opinions on issues beyone their brief. Direct by PM. 

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Main Source of PM Power

The powers 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 whom lives at number 10. This allows the PM to make appointments to arrange the positions throughout the state, such as the head of the 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 this it 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 majoirty support in the House of Commons as leader of the largest party, the combined power of patronage and party whip ensure that the PM can exert strong influence in the legislature.

A PM with a comfortable majority can be said that the MPs owe it to a popular leader e.g Blair said the 1997 landslide was achieved on his coat tails.

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Role of Prime Minister

The PM has become head of state and as such they represent Britain on the world stage, such as attending/chairing summits of the EU, G8 etc

The PM is chief government spokesperson, they answer weeking questions in the House of Commons at PMQT, Blair introduced monthly press conferences which have been continued by Brown and Cameron 

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Two Powers of the PM

1. The PM has the power of patronage, covers appointments to the cabinet, head of civil service, peerage and honours, and senior levels of the judiciary and clergy.

Tony Benn described the power of hire and fire as an enormous one suince it can be used as a tool to exert control over the parliamentary party. 

2. The PM also possesses the power to declare war

2003 there was a vote in the House of Commons before Baghdad invasion, more seeking moral authority as it is not a constitutional requirement.

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Defining Collective Ministerial Responsibiity

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 CMR e.g Michael Heseltine over the Wetland Affair in 1986 or Robin Cook and Clare Short left the government over the Iraq invasion in 2003. 

Uner the Penumbra of CMR, the convention dictates government should resign if defeated on a vote of no confidence in the commons e.g James Callaghan called for a dissolution on 28th of March 1979 following a defeat shortly after government's devolution proposals were rejected by Scotland and Wales 

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Defining Individual Ministerial Responsibility

A feature of parliament government is that the executive is drawn from legislature and accorind to the constiution 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 fulfill. 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 Functions of the 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' covened 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 Developments is in the focus on media management. 'The Grid' was prepared by Jonathon Powell, Blair's Chief or 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 themselves with people who will drive forward towards the same goals

PMs are restricted, they must appoint some big hitters - an american president once said 'better to have big hitters in the tent rather than outside' 

PMs will also look for balance - this can be both personality and region, Labour Govts favour Welsh and Scottish members. Blair at one time had a third of his govt 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 handed 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 govt policy. Past 40 years occured about 2 dozen times due to CMR e.g. Heseltine over Westlands affair in 1986and Robin Cook and Clare Short in 2003 over the 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 in 2002. 

Personal mistakes are the most common reason for resgination however this is often down to ability to survive media barrage.

Ultimately ministers will go when they feel the embarassment to the government for a resignation is less than the embarassment 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 PM Powers

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 limited. 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 Iraw 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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