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Comment upon the view that we are now living in an era of Prime Ministerial Government?

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James Rees Comment upon the view that we are now living in an era of Prime Ministerial Government? The British Prime Minister holds considerable power and influence in government that much is undeniable. However it can be argued that strong Prime Ministers such as Margaret Thatcher (1979 - 1990) and Tony Blair (1997 -) have been able to manipulate this power to totally dominate and control government and the political agenda, leaving many to conclude that we are now living in an era of Prime Ministerial government and that the past tradition of Cabinet government, whereby a group of leading politicians oversaw the running of the country with the Prime Minister acting almost as a chair person, has been dispensed with. The best way to prove this is to examine the immense powers of the British Prime Minister and show how it is possible for them to be used to the Prime Minister's advantage. The British Prime Minister holds considerable power within government. This is best demonstrated in his/her power to appoint or dismiss from political office within the government. The Prime Minister controls Cabinet, since the 19th century it has been the sole right of the Prime Minister to call for a meeting of the Cabinet and "It is the Prime Minister, and not the other members of the Cabinet who controls the composition, structure and procedures of Cabinet." ...read more.


Margaret Thatcher was deeply hostile to the Civil Service, on becoming Secretary of State for Education in the 1970's, she quickly found that the job of the Civil Service to offer advice on "What the department has done or what the department should do", (H. Young, One Of Us, Macmillan, 1989, p.72) did not exactly work with her own rather despotic nature. On becoming Prime Minister in 1979, such clashes became more regular and would lead to the head of the Civil Service taking early retirement and the Civil Service Department being abolished. In terms of political power within one's own party, the Prime Minister has within his/her power to decide the future fortunes of their party and the political futures of many of their backbench Members of Parliament. The best example of this is demonstrated in the power of the Prime Minister to recommend to the Monarch the timing of the dissolution of Parliament. The exercise of this aspect of Prime Ministerial power can have a significant impact one way or the other on the political fortunes and destiny of the party or individual Members of Parliament concerned. Both domestically and internationally the Prime Minister exercises considerable power due to the national and international status, standing and prestige that is attached to the office of Prime Minister. ...read more.


Therefore a Prime Minister has to hand over certain aspects of his/her power to others and trust that they will be used properly and wisely. The party organization does not always follow the will of the Prime Minister. As leader of the party, he/she must guide and influence, a Prime Minister must woo their party into agreement, not batter them into submission as Margaret Thatcher attempted to do and failed. Similarly MP's are not bound to support their party leader but the party itself. Their loyalty is to the party and its ideology and not to a particular leader. As the most prominent member of the government, the Prime Minister is likely to receive high media coverage, which can be a double-edged sword and can lead to mistakes made by a government being blamed on the Prime Minister. In conclusion, while it is evident that there are some constraints on the powers of the British Prime Minister, it is also clear that he/she remains by far the most powerful member of the government and has such a great degree of power and influence over the Cabinet, aspects of law making, media etc as to enable him/her to do as he/she sees fit, therefore it is possible to conclude that we do currently live in an era of Prime Ministerial government. ...read more.

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