Prime Minister & the Core Executive UNIT TWO

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  • Created by: Ella
  • Created on: 15-04-13 09:53

Layout of the House of Commons

  • PM is responsible for choosing other members of the government
  • Current leader of the House of Commons is Andrew Landsley
    • He attends Cabinet meetings but is not at a Cabinet minister
    • Works very closely with the chief whief
  • Leader of the Opposition 
    • Determines a shadow cabinet to follow the work of government departments
    • Role of the shadow cabinet is to examine the role of each government department
    • Develops policy in their specific areas
  • Whips
    • Help organise their party's contribution to parliament business
    • Make sure the maximum number of party members' vote and vote the way the party wants them to
  • Three-line whip
    • Means all available people have to be present and vote a certain way
    • Defying the whip can result in being expelled from a party, forced to sit as an independent
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Different organisations of parliament // Judicial

  • Hung parliament occurs when no party has a majority of seats
  • Minority government
    • Must try to secure support from other parties for key measures
    • Government ministers are members of one party
  • Coalition governement e.g. the 2010 General Election
    • Two or more parties agree a government following negotiations, formal agreement on policy, can be difficult to come to agreements
    • Ministerial positions are shared between two or more parties e.g. Nick Clegg as Deputy PM


  • Patronage = power of an individual to appoint someone to an important position
  • Judicial system is now more independent, PM plays no role in judicial appointments
  • PM's role in the honour system has been reduced, more independent
  • Blair announced after the 2007 Cash for Honours that the PM would not add/remove names from the final list for the independent Honours Committee
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Appointing Cabinet Ministers

  • Since 1981, Labour PM forming their first cabinet after being in opposition must select it from those MPs who had been elected to the Shadow Cabinet
  • Senior politicians may have claims to positions in Cabinet/office
  • Some are able to demand a post of their own
    • Gordon Brown agreed not to stand in the 1995 Labour leadership election in order to increase Blair's chances of victory
  • Do not have a completely free hand
    • David Cameron had to include Senior Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in his coalition cabinet in 2010 - THERE ARE FIVE IN CABINET 
  • Strengthen their own position/party
    • Gordon Brown was facing unrest in the Labour party in 2008 and strengthened his position by bringing Lord Mandelson back into the Cabinet [who was a prominent Blairite]
  • Can become stale no matter how much is changed
    • The Conservatives party in the 1990s, after being in power since 1979
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Cabinet Reshuffles

  • Can demote those who have underachieved
  • Can decide the timings of a cabinet reshuffle
  • Sudden resignation by a minister may force an unwanted reshuffl
  •  Botched reshuffle can reflect badly on government
    • Harold Macmillan’s 1962 reshuffle = “night of the long knives” where he sacked seven cabinet ministers
    • Thatcher’s demotion of foreign secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe in 1989 which resulted in 1990 when he resigned from cabinet and launched an attack that helped to bring about her downfall
  • Punish those with questionable behaviour
    • Blair dismissed ministers such as his close ally Peter Mandelson who has twice forced to leave cabinet
  •  For the future
    • Blair was forced to negotiate the distribution of some cabinet  because of the impending heir of Gordon Brown after Blair said he would not serve a whole term
  • Still have to please their Cabinet, so as to not damage their political stance
    • Brown intended to make Ed Balls chancellor of the exchequer but Alistair Darling made it clear he would refuse to accept another post
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Cabinet Meetings

  • PM manages the agenda
  • Determines which information/papers can be brought before the Cabinet, controls the information presented
  • Can keep potentially difficult/controversial issues off the agenda - deal with them in a cabinet committee/bilateral discussions with the relevant minister
  • Determines the frequency/length of cabinet meetings
  • Appoints senior civil servants
  • Can establish committees to examine issues they want to promote - although the PM cannot control all aspects of decision-making at this level
  • Can essentially personalise government 
    • 2001 - Blair did this by merging responsibility for the environment and agriculture in a new Departmental for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
    • Cameron was advised against making any significant changes by senior civil servants
  • Can reform the role/organisation of the civil service
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Party Leadership/Public Standing

  • Working majority is important to strengthen the PM's position, means they are more likely to have the confidence of the Commons and are able to enact the government's policy programme
  • Strengthen the authority of the PM
    • Labour and Cons. vote directly for leader of party, legitimises their position
    • Unlikely to be challenged by leadership if they have been selected 
  • Always controversy
    • Blair suffered sizeable rebellions over foundation hospitals, tuition fees, Iraq
  • Not always unconditional support - Thatcher was forced out of Government after lack of support in the 1990 leadership contest
  • Blair had great authority and leadership in first few years 
    • Secured two landslide elections, support waned after Iraq in 2003
    • Reformed Labour's organisation to enhance the position of the leader
  • Attends formal meetings with heads of government - Thatcher and Blair both forged strong relationships with the president of the US
  • PM has recently taken on "communicator-in-chief" to articulate policy, more media role
  • Communicate regularly with the public, monthly press conference
    • Twice-yearly formal conference before the HoC Liaison Committee
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Thatcher/Blair/Brown as a Leader


  • Regarded as a determined leader
  • Good image for the majority of her period in office
  • Towards the end she became associated with negative policies e.g. miners, poll tax
  • Regarded as autocratic


  • High poll ratings during his first term
  • War in Iraq damaged his standing, trusted by fewer voters


  • Firstly seen as competent, experienced
  • Personal standing plumented in 2009
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Policy-making / Different Types of Leaders

  • Needs backing of senior figures on controversial matters to be influential
    • Chancellor Nigel Lawson and foreign secretary Geoffrey Howe forced Thatcher to shift government policy on the ERM in 1989 by threatening to resign if she continued to rule out British entry
  • Choices of policy
    • Blair/Major both played an active role in the peace process in N. Ireland which would strenghten their position/authority
    • Blair rapidly removed Saddam Hussein in 2003 but the invasion undermined his authority and raised questions about his trustworthiness/judgement
    • Brown was previously Chancellor and forged a good reputation but the Credit crunch undermined this = questioned his leadership/economic ability
  • Laissez-faire = hands-off approach, delegate decision-making responsibly
  • Transactional = favour collective decision-making
  • Transformational = seek to impose their own strong views on policy/government
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PM's Office / Thatcher as PM

  • Reorganisation in 2001 reinforced two important aspects of the work of the PM’s office
  • Policy advice
    • May offer alternative views to those they receive from cabinet ministers
    • Encourage strategic thinking
    • Co-ordinates policy making and policy implementation
  • Communications
    • Responsible for the presentation of government policy/relations with the media
    • Media has become more focussed and the PM’s role in the public eye has intensified
    • Overall responsibility for government communications was transferred to a senior civil servant in 2004 following criticism of the politicisation of communications
  • Thatcher
    • Made policy in bilateral meetings/cabinet committees
    • By 1990 had few allies left in Cabinet 
    • Was persuaded by Chancellor John Major to accept a policy she had previously opposed and agreed entry into the ERM [exchange rate mechanism]
    • Economic problems, unpopular policies, cabinet divisions, low opinion polls = all contributed to her downfall
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Major / Brown as PM

    • Would chair Cabinet and Cabinet Committees to allow ministers to express their views and guide them to a conclusion in line with his intentions
    • More public and regular system of Cabinet Committees rather than relying on bilateral meetings like his predecessors
    • Collegiate style [academic, idealistic]
    • Appeared overwhelmed by events, unable to set the political agenda
    • Used cabinet meetings to bind both pro-Euro and Eurosceptic ministers to government policy on Europe
    • Worked closely with rivals to lessen rivalry [Michael Heseltine, Kenneth Clarke]
    • Immediately secured the Labour leadership without a challenge
    • Hard-earned reputation over the economy was brought into disrepute because of the credit crunch undermining his reputation and therefore he appeared vulnerable
    • Promised a return to a more collegiate style but soon relied on an inner circle
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Blair as PM

  • "Napoleonic" = acted as communicator-in-chief, took key decisions
  • Used bilateral meetings, would agree policy objectives with individual ministers
  • "Sofa government"
    • Key decisions were reached in informal meetings, close circle of advisors
    • Informality/neglect of the Cabinet was criticisized
  • Improved policy co-ordination by
    • Creating numerous task forces/special units
    • Number of special advisors was dramatically increased = 80 IN NOVEMBER 2001
  • First two terms were positive, had a strong position in his party
  • Problems
    • Faced large-scale rebellions over three main issues
    • Reduced majority in 2005 meant he had less room to manoeuvre, was limited
    • Stepped down in June 2007, jumped before he was pushed?
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Brown & Blair / The Cabinet

    • "Dual monarchy" by critics, mutual dependent relationship
    • Brown had unparalleled influence in policy areas such as pensions, enterprise and welfare-to-work, unlike conventional Chancellor's normal power
    • Second term = strain over policy ownership on the European single currency
    • Meetings of senior ministers and heads of governemtn department
    • Average size of the Cabinet is 22 people
    • Key decision-making body in British government
    • Number who can receive a cabinet ministers' salary is limited to 22
    • In 2010
      • Another cabinet minister who did not receive full salary
      • 6 MORE ministers who attend but are not cabinet ministers
      • 4 ARE WOMEN, in 2006 this was 8/22
    • More recently created departments reflect organisational chance in Whitehall e.g. international development which was created in 1997
    • Rare for members to be Lords, EXCEPTION IS LORD MANDELSON
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Cabinet Meetings / Role

    • Under Blair/Brown they met ONCE A WEEK [when parliament was in session]
    • Blair's cabinet meetings lasted about an hour, some were over in half that time
    • Brown held cabinet meetings outside London for the first time since 1921
    • Formal affair = fixed seating arrangements, pre-determined agenda
    • Interventions by senior ministers/relevant departmental ministers are given priority
  • ROLE
    • Register decisions taken elsewhere in Cabinet
    • Decision-making
    • Settling disputes between government departments
    • Determining government business
    • Receive reports on key developments
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Registering Decisions

  • Deal with unresolved disputes between government departments
  • Many decisions are made at a lower level
    • In ministerial standing committees
    • Bilateral meetings
    • Correspondence between departments
  • Cabinet = "clearing house for policy" 
  • Limited by infrequency of meetings, size, detailed nature of policy
  • Frequent turnover of ministers = curbs influence, limits their impact
  • Timewasting if Cabinet looked at other policy as would lack expertise/may not see relevant papers
  • In the past decisions were made over lengthy discussions over several sessions where all ministers would express their views
  • Thatcher and Blair both noted for their dislike of these long sessions
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Major Issues / Reports

    • Cabinet is supreme decision-making body in the UK
    • Used for sensitive/important/controversial developments or if government departments cannot come to a decision
    • Largely advisory role e.g. Treasury's verdict on the Euro [June 2003], Butler Report 2004 on the Iraq invasion about 24 occasions before where the cabinet were advised
    • Votes are rarely taken, PM takes the final decision as could show divisions
    • Sometimes little or no discussions e.g. Thatcher and the ERM, operational independence in 1997, in order to avoid being challenged or showing divisions
    • Clarify/question policy
    • Allow ministers to discuss policy and the government priorities
    • Formal agenda
      • Report on parliamentary business
        • Leaders of the HoC and HoL outline the following week's business
      • Economic and home affairs
      • Foreign affairs
    • Blocking discussion may be counterproductive, could cause discontent to fester
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Settling Disputes

    • If decisions cannot be solved lower they are referred up to Cabinet
    • Cabinet judges have to evaluate disputes and come to a binding decision 
      • Disputes between departments and the Treasury over spending allocations where more than one department is competing to be superior, the main actor
    • In 1986
      • Michael Hestletine resigned because he was unhappy with Thatcher's ruling that Cabinet would not hear his appeal against a cabinet committee's decision on the award of a defence contract
      • SOS for trade & industry Leon Brittan was forced to resign, instructed a civil servant to leak information on the case
    • An informal grouping of the PM's senior ministerial colleagues 
    • Meetings with small group of ministers, advisers, officers
    • In 1968-1969, Harold Wilson created an inner cabinet to deal with Sterling crisis
    • In September 1992, John Major talked to senior colleagues over the Sterling's fate in the ERM
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Cabinet Committees

  • PM is responsible for creation, membership, chairmanship
  • Several types
    • Ministerial standing committees
    • Ministerial subcommittees
    • Ad hoc committees
    • Official committees of civil servants
  • Given great priority due to the Hutton report = criticisized Blair's preference for informal meetings
  • Cameron chairs 5 committees
    • Coalition committee
    • National security council 
    • NSC (threats, hazards, resilience, continguencies)
    • NSC (nuclear deterrence and security)
  • List of cabinet committees first made public in 1992
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Cabinet Office / Ministerial Roles

    • Government department responsible for supporting the Cabinet system & the PM 
    • Managing the civil servant
    • Cabinet Secretariat
      • Regulates and co-ordinates cabinet business
      • Coordinates policy work on issues that bridge several different departments
      • Act as a neutral facilitator in cases of disputes between departments
      • Some deal with security issues
    • Cameron established the National Security Council = oversee UK security, appointed a national security adviser based in the Cabinet Office
    • Policy leadership
      • Important role in policy initiation/selection, former secretaries have done this e.g. Michael Howard and David Blunkett
    • Representing departmental interests and negotiate funding increases
    • Department management, shape the internal distribution of resources
    • Relations with parliament, are accountable, appear before select committees, steer department's bills through parliament
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Collective Ministerial Responsibility

  • Sense of unity in governemnt is undermined by departmental/personal rivalries
  • Have to fight for their deparment's issues in Cabinet
  • Secrecy 
    • Details of discussions must remain private
    • Prevents divisions being revealed, keep sensitive info away from the public
  • Binding decisions - have to accept decisions or are accepted to resign
    • Tom Watson [junior minister] in 2006 resigned after signing a letter urging Blair to resign
  • Confidence vote
    • The entire government must resign if it is defeated in a vote of no confidence 
    • 1979 when James Callaghan's Labour government lost a vote of confidence after its bill on Scottish devolution was defeated in the HoC
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Individual Ministerial Responsibility / Special Ad

    • Accountable to parliament for their own personal conduct, their departments and their policies
    • Cannot be held accountable for decisions made by civil servants which they had no knowledge/disagreed with
    • Have to be as open as possible, only be culpable if they misled parliament knowingly
    • Beverley Hughes [immigration minister] resigned in 2004 after admitting she gave a 'misleading impression' to MPs on checks on migrants from Eastern Europe
    • Temporary political appointment made by government minister
    • Temporary civil servants
    • Blair at his peak  had 80 special advisers
    • In 2009, there was 74 special advisers
    • Were given by Blair the power to issue instructions to civil servants but Brown removed this power
    • Allowed to convey instructions to civil servants/commission work
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CMR Under Strain #1

  • Temporary suspension
    • PM’s have previously suspended collective responsibility to prevent lots of ministerial resignations
    • Harold Wilson allowed ministers to campaign either  yes or no vote during the 1975 European Economic Community despite the government supporting a yes vote
    • Gordon Brown granted ministers a free vote on 3 areas of the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill,required to support it at 2nd/3rd reading
  •  Leaks
    • Malicious leaking information about cabinet discussions to the media if they are disgruntled
    •  Alastair Campbell said Clare Short had been excluded from some discussions because it was thought she may leak information about Iraq
  • Dissent and non-resignation
    • Some cabinet ministers remain in office even if they oppose important aspects of government policy
    • Clare Short remained in the cabinet for 2 months after publically expressing concerns about the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and then subsequently, she resigned
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CMR Under Strain #2 / Civil Service Reform

  • CMR Under Strain
    • Prime ministerial dominance
      • Some cabinet ministers serving under Thatcher/Blair thought that collective responsibility had been undermined by the PM ignoring cabinet
      • Mo Mowlam/Clare Short both argued that Blair did not consult cabinet enough – “kitchen cabinet”
    •  Bureaucracy – enacts policy and operates according to a clear set of rules/procedures
    • Operates according to a clear set of procedures
    • Impartiality
      • Serve the Crown rather than the government, politically neutral, not overtly involved in party political tasks
    • Anonymity = should not be identified individually as the author of advice
    • Permanence  = stay in their posts when there is a change of government
    • Meritocracy [holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability] = not political appointments,recruited by competitive exams/interviews 
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Grounds for Resignation

  • Mistakes in departments
    • Agriculture minister Sir Thomas Dugdale resigned in 1954
  • Policy failure
    • Chancellor of the Exchequer James Callaghan resigned in 1967 
    • Foreign secretary Lord Carrington in 1982
  • Political pressure
    • Pressure from a sustained period of time about a minister’s performance
    • Stephen Byers in 2002
    • Estelle Morris resigned in 2002
  • Personal misconduct
    • Have to remain accountable, objective, open, honest, integrity
    • Sleaze reflects negatively on the government
    • In 2008, Peter Hain who was secretary of state for work and pensions resigned
    • In 2010, David Laws who was chief secretary to the treasury resigned
    • In 2013, Chris Huhne resigned following his plea of guilty for perverting the course of justice
  • A minister is unlikely to remain in office if the PM thinks of their mistakes as too damaging to government 
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Reforms since 1988

    • Executive agencies
      • Civil servants in Whitehall continue to advise ministers but policy implementation functions were passed onto executive agencies
      • Operate "at arm's length from government departments"
    • Marketization = contracted out to the private sector
    • Managerial culture = use private sector techniques for executive agencies
    • Recruitment = use more outsiders, experience with public sector especially
    • Diversity = by 2008, women made up 31%  of the senior civil service, ethic made up 4%
    • Fragmentation = causes problems of co-ordination/control, separation of policy advice and service delivery function of the civil service
    • Markets and agencies
      • Executive agencies = greater efficiency, failures e.g. Child Support Agency
    • Accountability = who is ultimately responsible, blurred lines of accountability
    • Politicisation = government exerts too much political pressure on the civil service
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Reforms since 1988 / Concerns about Impartiality

    • Executive agencies
      • Civil servants in Whitehall continue to advise ministers but policy implementation functions were passed onto executive agencies
      • Operate "at arm's length from government departments"
    • Marketization = contracted out to the private sector
    • Managerial culture = use private sector techniques for executive agencies
    • Recruitment = use more outsiders, experience with public sector especially
    • Diversity = by 2008, women made up 31%  of the senior civil service, ethic made up 4%
    • Fragmentation = causes problems of co-ordination/control, separation of policy advice and service delivery function of the civil service
    • Markets and agencies
      • Executive agencies = greater efficiency, failures e.g. Child Support Agency
    • Accountability = who is ultimately responsible, blurred lines of accountability
    • Politicisation = government exerts too much political pressure on the civil service
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