The Prime Minister and Executive- chapter summary

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  • Created on: 22-05-18 16:54

The Nature and Roles of the UK Executive

The PM:

  • Roles: Chief policy maker and chief executive. In particular he or she is chief economic policy maker. Head of the governing party.
  • Supporting bodies and individuals: Cabinet, cabinet secretary, private office of civil servants, policy unit


  • Roles: Approving policy and settling disputes within govt. Determining the govt's reaction to crises and emergincies. Determining the presentation of govt policy
  • Supporting bodies and individuals: Cabinet committees, cabinet office, cabinet secretary


  • Role: Managing the govt's finances. Determinig the quantity and distribution of taxation in UK.
  • Supporting bodies and individuals: Senior civil servants, special advisers, think tanks

Govt departments:

  • Role: developing and implementing specialised policies, responsibility for various aspects of the govt's roles
  • Supporting bodies and individuals: civil servants, special advisers, think tanks
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Individual Ministerial Responsibility

IMR is a constiturional convention. It has 4 main elements:

  • Ministers must be prepared to be accountable to Parliament for the policies and decisions made by their department. This means answering questions in the House, facing interrogation by select committees and justifying thei actions in debate.
  • If a minister makes a serious error of judgement, he or she should be required to resign
  • If the minister's department makes a serious error, whether or not the minister was invloved in the cause of the error, he or she is honour-bound to resign- Amber Rudd
  • If a minister's conduct falls below the standards required of someone in public office, he or she should leave office and may face dismissal by the PM

However, there's been considerable erosion of the principle. In particular, certain developments have undermined it:

  • Ministers are no longer prepared to accept responsibility for the errors or poor performance in their departments. Unless a major error is directly attributed to the minsiter, they don't resign.
  • This means that ministers are prepared to lay the blame on low-ranking officials and civil servants. Unelected memebrs used to be protected by the doctrine of IMR.
  • It is now up to PM whether a minister should be removed from office under the doctrine
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Collective ministerial responsibility

1- Ministers are collectively responsible for all govt policies, even though the decision was taken by PM or another minister individually

2- All ministers must publicly support all govt policies, even if they disagree privately

3- If a minister wishes to dissent publicly from a govt policy, he or she is expected to resign first

4-If a minister dissents without resigning, he or she can expect to be dismissed by PM

5- As cabinet meetings are secret, any dissent within govt is concealed. This ensures that ministers will not be inhibited in exressing reservations about politics.

Examples of CMR operating:

  • Robin Cook- Foreign secretary- Labour, 2003: Opposed the govt's decision to take part in an invasion of Iraq.
  • Lord O'Neill- Junior Treasury minister- Conservative- 2016: Disagreed with govt policy on nuclear power station financing
  • Baroness Warsi- Jr foreign office minister- Cons- 2016: Disagreed with the govt's policy on Israel and Palestine.
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Prime Minister's Power

The Powers of the PM:

  • The PM is perceived by the public to be govt leader and representative of the naton. This gives them great authority.
  • Prime ministerial patronage means the PM has power over ministers and can demand loyalty
  • The PM now has a wide range of individuals or bodies that advise them personally
  • The PM chairs the cabinet and controls its agenda, which means he/she can control the governing process. The PM enjoys prerogative powers and so can bypass cabinet on some issues
  • The PM can use collective responsibility to silence critics and hold cabinet together
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The Cabinet's Power

The powers of the Cabinet:

  • If the cabinet is determined, a majority of members can overrule the PM
  • Ultimately the cabinet can effectively remove the PM from office, as happened to Thatcher and Blair.
  • Cabinet may control powerful ministers with a large following who can thwart the will of the PM. Blair was rivalled by Brown in 2005-07, Cameron by several influential Eurosceptics in 2010-15
  • If PM leads a divided party, it is more difficult to control cabinet. This happened to John Major in 1992-97 an was a constant problem for David Cameron
  • Ministers can leak disagreements to the media and to colleagues, and so undermine the PM by publicising cabinet splits.
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How powerful is the PM?

Prime ministerial limitations:

  • The PM may be overruled by the cabinet, if the cabinet is split or if the PM tries to impose a controversial policy- Thatcher in 1990 when she tried to impose the poll tax
  • The PM may not be able to command Parliament. He or she may have a slim parliamentary majority or lose the majority altogether- David Cameron 2010-16
  • Adverse events may render the PM  relatively powerless, economic crises can cause major problems for a PM- Gordon Brown, 2008-10
  • The PM may lose the confidence of their own party, a split in the party can undermine the PM- Tony Blair,2005-07
  • Though the PM has wide patronage powers, he or she may be forced to appoint to the cabinet adversaries who have a strong following in the party
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Is the PM effectively a president?


  • The PM takes on many of the roles of head of state and speaks for the nation.
  • The election of the governing party owes much to the PM's leadership
  • Despite parliamentary constraints the PM is the chief foreign policy maker
  • Once in action the PM makes strategic military decisions
  • The PM controls the intelligence services at home and abroad
  • The PM negotiates and agrees foreign treaties
  • Some charismatic PMs such as Churchill, Thatcher and Blair have adopted a presidential 'style'


  • He or she is not head of state
  • The PM is not directly elected
  • The PM's conduct of foreign policy is increasingly subject to parliamentary approval
  • The PM can no longer commit armed forces to action without parliamentary approval
  • A PM can be removed from office by Parliament or by their own Party, a President can't
  • The powers of the PM are not codified in a constitution but are controversial 
  • PMs cannot promote patriotic support for the state to the same extent as presidents often do
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