• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

How and why has the role of the prime minister changed over the post-1945 period?

Extracts from this document...


PIED 3160 Prime Ministers and British politics Section B 2) How and why has the role of the prime minister changed over the post-1945 period? Amongst the literature devoted to the various prime ministers that have held office since 1945, there is by no means a consensus that the job of the prime minister has changed in the last half century. Jones suggests that "the conventional wisdom expressed by some academics and journalists [is] that the position of the prime minister in the British system of government has altered significantly in recent years"(King, 1985, p195). However in an academic textbook, it is alleged that "the job of the prime minister has remained essentially unchanged for the past century"(Rose, 2001, p55) The world has changed so much since 1945 that inevitably the roles performed by prime ministers over the last 59 years have altered. Whilst prime minister's roles may have changed in order to adapt to different circumstances at different times, the job of prime minister has not necessarily developed new roles. As Hodder-Williams points out "all alterations are changes; development, on the other hand, implies a number of changes which move in one perceptible direction" (1995, p225). This serves to explain the confusion surrounding whether or not the job of the prime minister has changed since 1945. One reason why difficulties arise in demonstrating how the job of prime minister has changed is because the office of prime minister has no formal powers dictated by a constitution. The prime ministership "is not an office with powers stipulated in a written constitution, as in America or France" (Rhodes, 2000, p48). The prime ministership is instead "best conceived of as a combination of roles or relationships" (Hodder-Williams, 1995, p226). These relationships are with the cabinet, the public, parliament, and other nations. Due to a lack of definition concerning these relationships, prime ministers have varied in almost every dimension of the job. ...read more.


Prime minister's today also have far more international commitments than they did in 1945. Since the early 1970's the prime minister has been obliged to attend regular international summits. He/she is "enmeshed, as a central part of his or her working life, in a network of relationships extending far beyond Britain's shores and includes ... NATO as well as the commonwealth and the European community" (King, 1991, p33). Britain's control over international affairs has been reduced so inevitably the prime minister's has too. However because of an increase in summits etc, the prime minister has more on his agenda than he used to and as such he can be said to have an increased international role "foreign policy issues have necessarily become more central to a prime minister's agenda" (Hodder-Williams, 1995, p227). King has argued that this has in effect granted the prime minister more power, because when decisions have to be taken at summits then it is the prime minister alone who makes them. "Collective bodies like cabinets have little alternative but to grant some powers of agency to their national representatives" (King, 1991, p37), as such the prime minister has more freedom to act independently of parliament. The increasing amount of time spent on foreign policy by the prime minister has meant that his role in government has had to diminish. Dunleavy and Jones have demonstrated this through the decline in prime minister's participation in the house of commons. This is best shown through the reduction of prime minister's question time. Prior to the 1950's the prime minister was expected to answer questions four days a week. However "in deference to Churchill's frailty his questions were reduced from four to two days only in 1953" (Dunleavy, 1995, p280). This change prompted a reform in 1961 which allocated two 15 minute slots for prime minister's questions on Tuesday and Thursday. Under Blair these two slots have been amalgamated to one half hour session on Wednesdays, further reducing the number of days the prime minister spends in parliament. ...read more.


Any minister who's work is rejected by the prime minister can have it discussed at cabinet level, and the cabinet can reject any policy proposed by the prime minister. As such "the doctrine of collective responsibility is still meaningful" (King, 1985, p212). So whilst the prime minister may be more informed about policy he is not more able to implement it independent of his cabinet. Another way in which the larger office of the prime minister has changed the role of the prime minister is through patronage. With more ministerial posts available the prime minister has to appoint more politicians to them. "The importance of the power of patronage has increased as the number of government offices has grown" (King, 1985, p198). The prime minister's power through patronage is said to have increased even further, when in the 1950s and 60s a new generation of MPs arrived in parliament. These MPs have been described as "career politicians" (King, 1991), desperate to work their way up the government ladder. As such the only way that they can achieve this is to give loyal service to the prime minister, as he determines who occupies every ministerial post. This appears to enhance the power of the prime minister, as such increasing his role over policy, for it seems likely that only those who support his initiatives will be rewarded with government office. However Jones has suggested that in fact the reverse might be true. "The way to achieve top office is not to give loyal and silent service, but to build up a following, to gain a reputation of having expertise in a certain sphere and to make a nuisance of oneself" (King, 1985, p208). The prime minister will then be forced to bring the troublemaker on board in order to hush up the man's attacks and prevent a division within the party. If this is the case, then whilst the prime minister's patronage role has increased in terms of having more positions to fill, then this has not coincided with an increase in prime minister's power. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level United Kingdom section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level United Kingdom essays

  1. Comparison of the US President and British Prime Minister.

    Thatcher, in particular, greatly increased her power within the executive by increasing the power of the Prime Minister's Office and successfully using the Cabinet Secretariat as a further means of centralizing power. Blair too, as he streamlined the two, has followed up on such a policy to adapt both executive

  2. The Prime Ministers Powers Of Patronage

    John Major's opponents in the 1990 conservative leadership challenge, Michael Heseltine and Douglas Hurd, were both given cabinet posts. Senior politicians may also have claims to the office because of their high profile. Gordon Brown, for example, agreed not to stand in the 1995 Labour leadership challenge to improve Blair's

  1. To what extent does the prime minister dominate the UK political system?

    As former PM Churchill once said, ''Keep your friends close, your enemies closer''. The downside is these people in cabinet will be influential over Government policy and have their voices heard. There are numerous examples of this conflict. Despite Thatcher and Major having problems in their cabinets (with pro Euros

  2. Free essay

    Identify and Discuss the Role of Prime Minister, Giving Specific Examples within the British ...

    This idea emerged in the 1980's during Thatcher's premiership "It is hardly exaggerating to describe Thatcher's Premiership as not merely presidential but quasi-monarchical" (Johnson 1990). This domination of her government renewed the debate of Prime Minister and Cabinet power. "In order to maximise the point of executive centralism, references were

  1. The office is what the holder chooses to make of it. Access the accuracy ...

    However, as long as Blair keeps his party happy they are of a huge benefit to him especially with the large majority they hold in the House of Commons, therefore he is able to get bills passed through the House with very little difficulty.

  2. To what extent has the post of Prime minister become more presidential?

    These include the political party which the PM may be accountable to, for example they can only form a cabinet of party members which leaves competent opposition out of front bench positions. There is also a restriction of policy through fear of splitting a party clear examples include Europe for Major as well as Blair recent proposals for foundation hospitals.

  1. The Increased Power of the Prime Minister

    As the PM he was shaped in the media to be shown as a very strong and independent character with a strong personality - and Alistair Campbell's role went beyond the shaping of the PM's image - he was to control the way the media took on the government and communications between, trying to perhaps control it.

  2. The Prime Minister dominates the Cabinet. How far do you agree with this view?

    However, Major's Cabinet style was almost too inclusive. Collective responsibility was certainly lacking at times and he faced a number of serious 'leaks' and even some challengers to his power from John Redwood and Michael Portillo. David Cameron came to office promising to restore the cabinet to its central role.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work