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How Powerful is British prime minister?

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How Powerful is British prime minister? The prime minister is that person who leads the majority party in the House of Commons, or who commands a majority of support in that house. PMs continue in office until they resign or concede a defeat after a general election. They also may reign after losing a motion of no confidence. In the 19th Century, Bagehot wrote (in the English constitution 1867), that parliamentary government had been superseded by Cabinet Government - that the theoretical sovereignty of parliament had been delegated to the executive for all practical purposes. The powers of government, and its cohesion under the convention of collective responsibility, ensured that the government could maintain a united front in the face of parliamentary opposition. Within such a system, the PM could be described as "primus inter pares" - first among equals - because, although he was the leading member of the government and its chief spokesman, it was the cabinet rather than the PM that dominated the decision making process. ...read more.


The PM heads the cabinet which comes from the majority party, and through party discipline the leadership can usually ensure that their backbenchers support the governments policies. In this way the government has virtual control over parliaments theoretical legal sovereignty. The powers of the PM are formidable, they cover the cabinet itself, the wider cabinet system and the party organisation: the PM is not only the head of government and its leading spokesman, but also the leading personality in the commons the instigator of important government policies and the representative of the government both home and abroad. However the dominance of the PM is not absolute, and there are significant limitations upon his powers. Britain is a pluralistic state and purports to be a democracy, where there is a system of parliamentary government and where the government remain responsible to the commons and ultimately to the people. ...read more.


the political, institutional, economic and international circumstances, but are also limited by the personality, effort and determination of the PM in relation to his colleagues. A PM like Home may have been similar to the 19th century "primus inter pares", but mrs Thatcher has displayed a strength of personality that represents a growth in PM power. However any PM in a modern government faces limitations from every sector of the government, the public and parliament, and PMs can only do what's feasible - as RAB Butler said "politics is the art of the possible". Neither "parliamentary government" nor cabinet government has ever existed in a pure form and equally prime ministerial government has its constraints. If mrs Thatcher at the peak of her influence signified the outer limits of prime ministerial power, john major saddled with a small parliamentary majority and a party bitterly divided over Europe, equally signifies the very real limitations a PM can be subject to. ...read more.

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