The Executive

The PM and their power/Cabinet/Civil Servants

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The PM's powers (Part 1)

1) Appointment and Patronage

To appoint, demote or dismiss Cabinet + junior ministers

  • To chair Cabinet meetings and prepare the agenda
  • To appoint Cabinet committees and chair some
  • To appoint most senior civil servants
  • To award peerages

Can dissolve parliament and call elections - decide upon the date of the next general election.

2) Royal Prerogative

These powers have moved from the monarchy.

  • Officially the monarch calls elections and dissolves parliament the PM now decides
  • Can declare war - Brown wants Parliamentary consultation when war is declared
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The PM's powers (Part 2)

3) Majority + Party Loyalty

The bigger the majority the party enjoys in the HoC, the greater the power that the PM has due to the influence they enjoy over the party and the Cabinet e.g. Thatcher and Blair having the largest majorities

Since the mid 1960's all PMs are leaders of the party and the party usually stays loyal to them but should events change, the loyalty can dissipate e.g. Thatcher and poll tax issue

4) Personality

A leader with a strong and popular personality can prove to be a powerful holder of the office like Blair. Cameron and Clegg have personality whilst Brown and Milliband have less charisma.

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The PM's powers (Part 3)

5) Other powers

The PM can ensure that their Cabinet is full of yes men so that the PM can get through legislation quickly without many problems vs. the PM.

The Pm can also re-shuffle his/her Cabinets to remove unpopular minister if they should become dissident or unpopular with the public.

More career politicians have ensured that the PM's power is strong due to modern, young politicians who follow the PMs rules and ideology so that they gain a Cabinet seat and a better career - look for a reward for loyalty.

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Factors limiting the PM's patronage power (Part 1)

1) Must contain a cross-section of the party ideology in Cabinet

Even Thatcher had to include one nation, pro Europe Tories such as Kenneth Clark and Douglas Hurd.

Blair felt he had to include Brown, Prescott and Mandelson out of personal loyalty to them after they formulated New Labour with him and John Smith. Brown showed that he was an alternative to Blair who was credible.

2) A Cabinet place can muzzle critical MPs

Some vocal MPS may cause dissidence in the back benches and by giving them a position in Cabinet they have to follow the ideology of the PM and party policy. Examples are Benn, Prescott, Heseltine and Tom Watson by making him the head of committees and deputy leader of Labour it gives him power to cool his adversarial style

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Factors limiting the PM's patronage power (Part 2)

3) Popularity

If they are popular in the public eye the PM feels he has to include them in the Cabinet e.g. Prescott, Benn and Enoch Powell. By not giving the minister a Cabinet seat can alienate the MPs.

4) Other factors

  • Colleagues who have shown support - Heseltine + Major
  • Expectations on the individual - Darling
  • Tolerant and balanced cabinet with women, ethnic minorities and LGBT people
  • If loyalty is countered they can become dissident
  • If they have bad or no majority
  • Legislation promised by the MP
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Norton's classification of PM personality

1) Innovators seek office to achieve goals - personal committment to the job but may prove to be unpopular with public + party (Thatcher, Blair)

2) Reformers seek office to achieve collective goals relevant to generalised ideology of the party (Cameron and Wilson)

3) Balancers seek office to heal the society broken usually by an innovator and achieve collective goals (Major and Brown)

4) Egoists seek office for simple power and to fill the hole in politics (ALL but specifically Macmillan)

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Burt's classification of PM personality

1) Delegators tend to trust ministers and let them run their own policy and departments - Major

2) Interveners are inclined to involve themselves in departments and push certain policies they possibly wish to accomplish - Blair, Thatcher and Cameron

3) Overseers are more general in their approach trying to achieve concensus and make sure that all are working to their capabilities if they are not they tend to intervene - Wilson and Cameron

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The Role of the Cabinet

Since 1945, Cabinets have usually consisted of about 20 ministers. Most cabinet ministers are the senior ministers in charge of the government departments. Usually there are also non-departmental ministers who can provide a more objective viewpoint than government ministers. Also attending are the Chief Whip (who can inform the cabinet the views of the backbenchers) and the Cabinet Secretary, the most senior civil servant who sits immediately to the right of the PM.

Since the 1970s the role of the cabinet has changed. Cabinet meetings have become fewer in their frequency and shorter. Under Blair (and Brown) the Thursday meeting barely lasted one hour.

Because the complexities of government have increased most cabinet ministers only have a concern and detailed grasp of their departments and lack a grasp at wider issues.

Consequently much government decision making takes place in forums such as Cabinet Committees and in bi-lateral and tri-lateral meetings (sofa politics) with specific ministers.

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Functions of the Cabinet (Part 1)

1) Policy formation

The Cabinet should be at the heart of all policy formation. Much policy did spring from the cabinet meetings of the Brown and Major governments than from the Blair and Thatcher governments. In reality, detailed policy formation, discussion and implementation do not take place in the cabinet itself. There is neither the time nor the expertise around the table. Cabinet is usually the place where policies are prioritised or where other groups are mandated to undertake more detailed policy formation.

2) Ratifying decisions formulated elsewhere

To give formal approval to decisions and proposals presented to it. These have usually been determined elsewhere such as Cabinet committees, govt. departments or in ad hoc or informal groups. The cabinet is left with the task of endorsing or rejecting policy proposals

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Functions of the Cabinet (Part 2)

3) Dealing with crises and emergencies

Cabinet ministers play an important role in presenting a united face in dealing with a national crisis. After Black Wednesday in September 1992 when the UK was forced out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, the entire cabinet met to endorce economic policy and show solidarity. At the end of 2003, the Blair cabinet discussed the Home Secretary's proposals for the introduction of compulsory ID cards to deal with terrorism.

4) Controlling the parliamentary agenda

The cabinet prioritises the business of Parliament as there is only a finite period of time to debate govt. policy in session. Ministers are involved in a competitive struggle to get their department policies turned into law. Also informs ministers so they all know about current affairs and the actions that the government will take.

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Functions of the Cabinet (Part 3)

5) Co-ordination

Meetings of the Cabinet ensure that ministers of departments are aware what their colleagues were doing and what impact this had on the government's overall goals and their departmental objectives. This function greatly enables greater coherance and consistency of government policies and to minimise conflicts between different ministers and/or different departments. Blair called this joined up government.

6) Settling inner-departmental disputes/Conflict resolution

Government departments compete for scarce resources and allocation of time to get legislation into the statues books. Sometimes the cabinet is called to resolve conflict which has arisen elsewhere in the executive e.g a Cabinet Committee might have failed to make an agreement on a particular policy due to deep divisions amongst ministers. The final decision might be made by the full Cabinet. Alternately a minister might be unhappy with a Cabinet committee decision and seek to have it discussed at Cabinet level. Such incidents are rare so the Cabinet is only rarely called to perform conflict resolution. In the 1980s the Thatcher Governments had a number of such disputes over Europe and the poll tax.

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Collective Responsibility

The Ministerial Code states that decisions reached by the Cabinet or Ministerial Committees are binding on all members of the government. Collective Responsibility requires that ministers should be able to express their view frankly in private while maintaining a united front when decisions have been reached.

C.R is supposed to be beneficial to:

  • Individual ministers - they can speak frankly in cabinet safe that their view will not be known publicly. Policy proposals will be subjected to robust exchanges of view and this should improve the quality of decisions taken and policies adopted
  • The government - so it appears they have unity and to be bound together by a shared sense of pupose; the authority of the government is maintained

C.R has widened over the years. In previous years it only applied to govt. ministers but today it applies to junior ministers as well. All ministers whose opposition to Cabinet or Cabinet Committee decision is so strong that they cannot publicly defend it are required to resign and return to back benching e.g.Heseltine, Geoff Howe, Robin Cook and Claire Short, Callaghan (VONC)

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Strain on Collective Responsibility

Collective responsibility has come under strain in the past 30 years due to:

1) Temporary suspension - PM Harold Wilson temporarily suspended the convention in 1975 to allow ministers to take different sides of the referendum on UK membership of the EEC

2) Leaks - disgruntled ministers sometimes leak information on government discussions to the media e.g. Major's EU relationship and the conflict between Blair and Brown leaked by Ed Balls.

3) Dissent and non-resignation - cabinet ministers who oppose government policy have survived in office e.g. Portillo in Major's govt and Clare Short staying in power for two months following her criticism of the Iraq War, she then resigned.

4) PM dominance

Ministers who have served in Thatcher's govt (Heseltine, Howe and Lawson - Thatcher's contempt for collegiality and Short, Mowlem - Blair does not consult cabinet sufficiently)

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Cabinet Committees

Since 1995, Cabinet Committees have become the most common forum for detailed discussions of govt. business. There are 3 types:

1) Standing Committees are referred to be code names or letters. They deal with specific policy area and legislation and usually temporary.

2) Ad hoc committees are set up to deal with specific long term problems e.g. Ad hoc committee set up by Thatcher to counter the 1984 Miner's Strike

3) The Consultative Committee are where matters are discussed with policians outside of the UK government.


Membership is appointed by the PM, members are usually ministers whose departments relate to the committee, also include junior ministers, decisions taken are same authority as those by the full cabinet and all decisions are reported back to cabinet.

Thatcher didn't use them, Major streamlined them, Blair reformed them (HR etc.)

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The Cabinet Office + The Shadow Cabinet

The Cabinet office is a corporate office overseeing all government policy. It prepares the agenda and papers for Cabinet/CC meetings, records the minutes of these meetings, checks the progress of policy decision and co-ordinates the work of govt. departments.

The Shadow Cabinet is made up of politicians from the main Opposition party, who sit on the front bench directly opposite government ministers. Each member is usually given a policy area to deal with (Education, Health etc.) It is important because:

  • It challenges what the government is doing, contributing to scrutiny + accountability (functions of Parliament)
  • It develops alternative policies to persuade the electorate in the next general election
  • It ensures that the Opposition politicians gain expertise in their fields
  • Exposes government weakness
  • Would become the cabinet proper at next general election
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Government Ministers

There are over 100 ministers in the UK Government. Ministers are given positions in governemt departments. Seniot ministers tend to be Secretaries of State, sit in the Cabinet and head government departments. Below them comes ministers of state and parliamentary under-secretary. These junior ministers are given specific policy roles in a department for instance prisons, citizenship etc. in the Home Office.

Main roles are:

1) Policy leadership - minister does not have entire knowledge for hands on role but has role in implementation. Only a few Home Secs. changed the policy framework dramatcially (Blunkett and Howard)

2) Representing departmental interests in Cabinet and negotiating for funding

3) Managing the work of their departments

4) Relations with Parliament - steering a legislative proposal through parliament

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Individual Ministerial Responsibility

The individual ministerial responsibility states the government ministers are responsible for the policy of their departments, their own conduct and that of the civil servants they direct. Examples of where IMR is important include:

  • Mistakes made in the department  - Iraq war
  • Policy Failure - Lord Carrington (ForS) resigning after Falklands War
  • Political Pressure - from parliament, the party or the media
  • Personal misconduct - sleaze!
  • When collective responsibility

The 1954 Critchel Down case set a precedent where ministers were expected to resign if there was a problem with them - Sir Thomas Dougdale in this case resigned over land issues

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Examples of Individual Ministerial Responsibility

Lord Carrington - Foreign Secretary in 1982 and stated that there was no threat of invasion to the Falkland Islands- when the Argentinians invaded he resigned due to his misguided judgement.

Callaghan - Chancellor of/Excheq in 1967 and resigned after he stated that the pound would never devalue against the dollar - but the pound devalued and he resigned.

Mandelson - resigned over financial scandal and once again over he asked for citizenship for his maid to an indian businessman; the media found out and slated him so he resigned

David Mellor - Minister in 1992 and after Major claimed that the Conservatives were back to basics he had an affair with a spanish prostitute 'From toe job to no job'

Liam Fox + Adam Werritty - advisor having too much power

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How can the PM control the cabinet?

  •  Patronage: All ministers appointed by PM & can be dismissed by PM. PM can also re-shuffle cabinet.
  • Control of the cabinet agenda: PM decides what is brought to cabinet. This gives him/her an opportunity to control the making of policy.
  • Bilateral agreements: Arrangements made by the PM with individual groups or ministers outside the main cabinet. Tony Blair these said to take place on his sofa --> "Sofa government".
  • Collective responsibility: It underpins PM control. Ministers must accept official gvt. policy, so the PM can expect their loyalty.
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How can the Cabinet/Legislative control the PM?

  • The cabinet has the power to overrule a PM. The PM is limited by the knowledge that he or she must carry the cabinet with him or her.
  • The ruling party could remove a PM. Though this has not occurred in recent history (with the possible exception that is was pressure from the membership that led to Tony Blair's premature resignation in 2007 and Callaghan), the PM needs to be careful to maintain the support of his or her party membership.
  • Parliament can overrule a PM by digging in its heels in opposition to a policy the Prime Minister makes.
  • The electorate can bring an end to a PM's position. The PM will have to face re-election eventually and so must take public opinion into
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The Civil Service

Government departments are staffed by civil servants; officials appointed by the crown. Posts range from junior clerks to senior political mandarins (top-dogs) who advise ministers.

Role/function of civil servants

1) Research - engine room of government; its specialists provide research essential policy formation, crucial when most ministers are gneralists

2) Policy advice - the top 1000 bureaucrats in the civ. service play a vital role in advising ministers and presenting proposals for policy

3) Policy execution - most policy is implemented by the civil service

4) Department administration

5) Ensuring continuity between govts

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Principles of the Civil Service

1) Permanency - The Civ. Service is a career profession. Civ. servants stay in office when a government leaves office. They therefore need to be impartial, neutral and anonymous

2) Neutrality - They must advise ministers and implement policy without political bias. They must even implement policy if their personal views coinflict with the policy.

3) Anonymity - Due to having to give ministers controversial ideas for policy it is best that they would be anonymous. Also they must not give information to the media and sign the Official Secrets Act.

4) Meritocracy- Are professionals and climb the ladder of career to get where they are

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Changes to the Civil Service

1) The Fulton report (1968) criticised the Civ. Servs amateurish approach. the report was never implemented, but influenced Thatcher's thinking.

2) Thatcher believed that the CS was too powerful, expensive and inefficient. She set up the Efficiency Unit headed by Derek Rayner (Marks and Sparks Boss) to make the CS more professional and efficient. Led to the Financial Mangement Initative which cut the CS from 700,000 people to less than 500,000.

3) The Ibbs Report made that CS were in charge of certain sections within departments to improve their efficiency

4) Major's Citizens Charter made the CS less meritocratic and more accountable to the public. Blair's agentification furthered this.

5) Special advisors lessened the need for CS advisors who were none of the CS principles.

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Do ministers dominate the Civil Service?

Power is with the Ministers

  • Thatcher's reforms made sure that the politicians were in charge and restored the ministers role as ultimate decision makers
  • Special advisors lessen the need for CS advice
  • There is a wider range of groups such as Cabinet and think tanks where ministers can get their advice
  • Principles of the civil service - cannot take credit for policy
  • More ministers are more innovative and commanding then in the past

Power is with the Civil Servants

  • Civil servants are much smarter about their area and they have specialist knowledge where the minister does not
  • Networking - mandarins meet privately to discuss the minister one civ may ask another for pressure to be placed
  • Ministers can go native and they have more committments such as their constituencies
  • Can wait for a change of minister/leak documents (Ponting)
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Examples of Civil Servants and Ministers

Derek Lewis in charge of the prison service was sacked by Michael Howard. Michael Howard blamed Lewis for the breakouts at Parkhurst. This means that Lewis was not anonymous and Michael Howard was not being indvidually responsible for his actions.

Clive Ponting leaked information about Thatcer's handling of the General Belgrano - broke the Official Secrets Act 'in the public interest info'

David Shayler was jailed for breaking Official Secrets Act after saying that MI5 hacked into the Labour Leadership

David Kelly said that there was not a threat that there were WMDs in Iraq; Gilligan stated this on the radio and blamed David Kelly - he killed himself

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