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How powerful is the Prime Minister?

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Introduction

How powerful is the Prime Minister? It is important to distinguish between competing interpretations of prime ministerial power: 'The Cabinet Government View' (Jones 1985) stresses the existence of collective decision-making. According to this view the Prime Minister is merely 'primus inter pares' and rules through consensus and inclusive participation. 'The Prime Ministerial Government View' (Hennessy 1995/Foley 2000), this view stresses the dominance of the Prime Minister over the cabinet, his party and the civil service. -'The theory of the Core Executive' (Rhodes 1995), this view stresses the pluralistic nature of decision-making. The old debate between supporters of the traditional Cabinet Government View and the Prime Ministerial Government view is sterile, evidence can be found to support both views. And the distinction often hinges on the question of personality (e.g. the difference between Major and Blair). ...read more.

Middle

This process was accelerated by Thatcher and increased by Blair, this has helped in the formation of 'The theory of Presidential Leadership'. Here, Foley describes how party politics has been transcended by the 'spatial leadership' of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has populist appeal to voters who tend to identify with leader rather than party. The Prime Minister (and his senior ministers) now possesses privileges traditionally enjoyed by the monarch in the Royal prerogative, allowing the Prime Minister the power to call elections, dissolve Parliament, pardon criminals and declare war among other things. There has also been a sharp increase in the number on non-ministerial appointments and an influx in special advisors at Downing Street. Blair, like Thatcher, was keen to bring in advice from the private sector, as demonstrated with is close alliance on powerful advisors such as Alistair Campbell and Jonathan Powell. ...read more.

Conclusion

Similarly, the Civil Services' influence in determining government is vast (due to permanence, neutrality, Unity anonymity). Moreover external factors/pressures can also constrain the Prime Minister's powers such as the economic climate and the Government's popularity etc. The dispersal of decision-making power to other key actors in the core executive (such as the Bank of England) have reduced the power concentrated in the Prime Minister's hands. Finally, the influence of corporate interests/pressure groups on Government policy cannot be underestimated, as seen with the NFU's influence during the Foot and Mouth Crisis. There is clear evidence of the Prime Minister's power, but also the many constraints on that power. The importance of personality is great, but this must be measured against the objective factors afore-mentioned. The Prime Minister is only one individual and cannot control the entire system. Instead, we might conclude that he/she plays a strategic role and increasingly serves as the focal point of government and popular expectations. ...read more.

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