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

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Hannah Quincey October 2003 To what extent has the post of Prime minister become more presidential During the post war period of the last fifty years there has been a perception that British prime ministers have become increasingly presidential and the two individuals connected with this thinking are Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Many commentators have argued and debated Thatcher's role as PM in a time where many consider cabinet government to have weakened creating a stronger and more powerful prime minister. However there has also been evidence to suggest that between 1958-63 Harold Macmillan displayed presidential tendencies when he took to running British foreign policy almost single handedly and enjoyed a remarkable relationship with the media. In contrast to this both Jim Callaghan (1976-79) and John Major (1990-1997) appeared to return to the traditional cabinet. This illustrates that there has not been a constant and progressive line towards presidency. Key to this question, is that definitions of presidency are in effect based upon personality opposed to substance, as Dennis Kavanagh has implied this in his studies of Thatcher, "Mrs Thatcher's success as a Prime Minister illustrates the importance of the office holders personality rather that institutional change"1 When discussing presidency the American model is preferred, as it is the most dominate of presidential models in the world. The president gains authority from the people who elect him, the PM also gains authority through elections however under the current system it is considered that he does not have a ...read more.


Blair's relationship with the media through Campbell has led people again to draw comparisons of his role to that of the President. His regular meetings with members of the press and his weekly conferences with representatives of the press shows once more how Blair wishes to manipulate the media through good relations to get the best possible publicity. Campbell resigned in September 2003 which many hoped would lead to a decrease in the use of spin. Many have acknowledged Campbell's skills, while at the same time admitting how he ensured that Blair's presidential style graduated. "Big personalities embody the period they dominate, of the nineties people will think of Campbell and Blair"6 An additional similarity between the two roles is the increasing appearance of the PM has a national leader. Thatcher and Blair have been used as examples when considering this point, Blair occasionally has the Union flag in the background when making speeches, as the president does with the stars and stripes. "Huge devotional pictures of Thatcher at Tory meetings, her endless taking of salutes on military occasions, her mother-of-the-nation act at national times of tragedy.... describe Thatchers premiership as.. Presidential"7 Foley has argued that elements such as spatial leadership, where the president detaches themselves from the legislature and the presidency has been seen in British leadership. An example of this is John Majors Citizens Charters initiative while Blair has disowned MP's before political corruption reports have been published which could have damaged the government. ...read more.


He has been deeply criticised for not communicating with cabinet and backbenchers, as well as taking foreign affairs into his own role and embracing the media in a large way. The cabinet secretary Wilson however disagrees stating that the prime minister still has many checks on their power stating that executive powers are legally vested in individual departments limiting the PM's powers. Perhaps it is significant to look at the definition of presidentialism, which states " That a president is a form of personalised leadership that is disengaged from parties"11 It is then possible to compare this to a quote from Tony Benn; "The present centralisation of power into the hands of one person has gone too far and amounts to a system of personal rule in the very heart of our parliamentary democracy" 12 Many people consider the role of PM to be changed, most however believe it is branching away from American presidency towards its own British model. 1 Dennis Kavangh from a social Studies review, volume 6 No.4 1991- taken from 'access to politics' 2 The PM and cabinet Gov by Neil Mcnaughton 3 Access to politics 4 Politics by Andrew Heywood 5 Alistair Campbell by Peter Oborne 6 Jonathan Freedland in The guardian September 2003 7 Johnson 1990 quoted in British politics by Roberts. 8 PM and cabinet Gov.- Neil McNaughton 9 George Jones of the LSE 10 Thatcher quoted in Politics by Heywood 11 Politics by Heywood 12 Tony Benn quoted in The British PM edited by Anthony King ...read more.

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