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Does Britain have a Prime Ministerial or Cabinet Government?

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Introduction

Does Britain have a Prime Ministerial or Cabinet Government? 'Primus inter pares', first among equals was the description given to the Prime Minister at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Although some were stronger leaders than others depending on their personalities the term Cabinet Government was still relevant. However towards the end of the century there was increasing feeling that this term was no longer appropriate and that with the increase in the powers of the Prime Minister Britain now has become a Prime Ministerial Government. Britain has traditionally had a Cabinet Government where the leader of the majority party becomes Prime Minister and governs with assistance from the Cabinet. Decisions where made by the Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister. The concept of collective responsibility arose from the convention of Cabinet Government where ministers are collectively responsible for any decisions made by government and it is their job to defend these policies publicly whether they agree with them or not. yet this concept relies upon the belief that if a minister disagrees with a policy they will have the chance to voice their views in private. However since 1945 the nature of government has changed and is becoming increasingly Prime Ministerial. ...read more.

Middle

The elements that determine how powerful a prime minister is include the nature and experience of the cabinet, the nature of economy and the size of the majority in Parliament. International events and international recognition also play a significant part in the strength of a Prime Ministers leadership. After winning the 1997 elections Blair found himself in a stronger position than any of his predecessors. He had a huge majority in parliament, a favourable press, and a weak and divided opposition at a point when the Labour party was more united than at any time previously. He was also fortunate enough to be the first Labour Prime Minister not to inherit an economic crisis. Most western governments were controlled by centre- left parties and he found a natural ally in the kindred spirit Bill Clinton. It was therefore very easy for Blair to assume a dominant and controlling attitude to the role of Prime Minister. His personality and leadership style are also fundamental reasons behind the presidential manner with which he governs. A Prime Ministers power fluctuates greatly depending on his or her character. The impact of Thatcherism in the 1980s caused political scientists to first look at the issue of a presidential Prime Minister. ...read more.

Conclusion

Thatcher would use quasi-regal language referring to herself as 'we'. She had a presidential foreign policy and on several occasions took the military salute, an action associated very much with the President of the United States. She attempted to promote an image of power and did so using huge pictures of herself at party conferences. Blair has adopted many of these methods in a similar attempt to make himself a presidential figure. Prime-ministerial power has increased over the last 50 years due to the power of the public image, the manipulation of the civil service, the control over the Cabinet and the 'hire and fire' power the Prime Minister has over those in government. Despite this these powers are limited to some degree by the strength of the financial backing for important ministers, the unpredictability of public image, and the impossibility of always controlling the Cabinet. The dominance a Prime Minister holds over their government depends more on their personality and the nature of outside factors such as the strength of the economy. The debate as to whether Britain has a cabinet or prime ministerial government continues and opinions vary widely. Some believe that there are still sufficient checks in place to ensure we have a Cabinet government others agree with Michael Foley (2000) who believes 'that the form of cabinet government may have been maintained but not in reality'. ...read more.

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