Is Britain an elective dictatorship?
Is Britain an elective dictatorship?
Lord Hailsham suggested the phrase elective dictatorship in his academic paper written in 1976. Elective dictatorship refers to the fusion of powers of the executive and the legislature; where the legislature is drawn from the executive therefore resulting in dominance of the executive over the legislature.
Firstly the executive’s majority in the House of Commons reinforces the executives dominance. Elective dictatorship occurs in conjunction with this situation and that of the governing party, the executive. The party in power will by definition have more seats, i.e. more voting power than all the opposition parties. This means that any legislation or motion proposed by the governing party could be passed unless government MPs dissents, because only a simple majority is required. Due to the strength of the system to prevent MPs of the governing party voting against it, in practice government bills are extremely rarely defeated in the . The government proposes usually around 95% of the bills passed. Also from 1997-2005 the Labour party had not lost a bill. Another reason why Britain is considered to be an elective dictatorship is the limited powers of parliament, which has led to the undermining of parliamentary sovereignty. The central issue to why Britain has become an elective dictatorship is the decline in strength of parliament even though it is regarded formally as the sovereign body within the constitution. Recent developments and modifications have meant that Parliament’s effectiveness in holding the executive to account, restraining the executive and scrutinising the executive has become limited.
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Firstly after acts like the 1911 House of Lords Act when the lord’s influence over finance was ended has slowly diminished and restricted the power of the lords. Britain’s membership with the EU has meant vital decisions affecting Britain being made away from parliament. For example in the case of the Common Agricultural Policy in 1997, parliament was not involved.
Pressure groups have also meant that the executive has gained more power and dominance as they have often received advice from pressure groups resulting in increasing popularity within the executive.
Referendums have also undermined the sovereignty of parliament.
Referendums in the 1970s were first approved by parliament in the first instance via statue law, but the final decision was effectively taken out of its hands.
Most of these problems are rooted in the fusion of the legislature and the executive, which has resulted in the dominance of the executive. From the declining effectiveness of parliament, we can see that an elective dictatorship in Britain is present, but whether Britain is a fully elective dictatorship is an issue we have to discuss.
Under Tony Blair’s government Britain has been increasingly seen as an elective dictatorship as many people feel its moving from a Prime Ministerial government to a presidential style government. Firstly this is seen by the relationship between the cabinet and the Prime Minister. Tony Blair’s period as Prime Minister since 1997 has stimulated renewed debate about the location of power within the executive and the relationship between the Prime Minister and the cabinet. Blair’s presidential style is reflected in his cabinet management. The meetings are short, and are held less frequently. The Prime Minister dominates executive decision, making key decisions without consulting the cabinet. For example an “ Elective Dictatorship” meant Tony Blair was still able to proceed with the Iraq war even though most of his cabinet disagreed with him, and two of his cabinet ministers, Robin Cook and Claire Short resigned.
However critics can also say that a Prime Ministerial style government has been around before Blair. Margaret Thatcher also had a Prime Ministerial style government for example she went against most of her cabinet in key decisions for example her decision for poll tax. Therefore Britain can be said to have had a “Elective Dictatorship” before the Blair government. The limited powers of the committees also mean Britain can be said to be an “Elective Dictatorship.” The function of the select committees primarily was to scrutinise the work of the executive and hold it accountable to parliament. However the powers of the Select committees have become very limited.
In the late 1980’s the select committees had established themselves as important contributors to the parliamentary functions of scrutiny, investigation and influence over the executive. However some modifications and features have meant that the effectiveness of the select committees has been significantly reduced. Insufficient time and poor resources have meant that it has become more ineffective. Most analysts agree that select committees have done little to change the balance of power between the executive and legislative. Reformers suggest that they can be made more effective, by giving them larger budgets, more powers, more access to documentation, and greater powers to interrogate ministers. However the limited powers of the select committees has led to the dominance of the executive over the legislative and profoundly an “ Elective Dictatorship.”
Even though Britain can be seen as an “Elective Dictatorship” there are still some aspects of the Britain’s political system that doesn’t make it an “Elective Dictatorship.”
In between elections the government is still held accountable. The scrutiny and control of the executive is carried out in Prime Minister’s question time, opposition days and back bench rebellions.
Also the presence of collective cabinet responsibility means the cabinet has to side with government policies and therefore the Prime Minister usually has to have agreement from his cabinet.
A vote of confidence also means that Britain can be undermined as an “Elective Dictatorship.”
When a is passed in Parliament, every minister and government official drawn from Parliament automatically resign in their role as the executive, the entire executive is dismissed.
Even though the powers of the House of Lords is restricted they are still able to act as a check on the executive. This is because they are still involved in the process of legislation. The house of lords has the power to amend and reject bills and also the House of Lords are able to delay bills.
The power of the executive has grown and the checks are in place to prevent abuse of this power. It is important for the legislature to keep a watch on the executive so the control is maintained and it does not slip into a dictatorship. These checks mean that Britain is not theoretically an “ Elective Dictatorship”, as rules still exist which means the executive can not have a dictatorial role. Britain currently is not an “ Elective Dictatorship”, as the Parliament still has some effectiveness in scrutinising the executive, however as Britain is falling more into a Prime-ministerial style government there is possibility that Britain can become an “Elective Dictatorship.”