The Prime Ministerial Government Thesis Underestimates The

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?The Prime Ministerial Government Thesis Underestimates The Constraints On The Power Of The Prime Minister.? Essay, Research Paper The Prime Ministerial government thesis has discredited the view of the Prime Minister as ?primus inter pares? ever since it was voiced by R. A. Crossman in his introduction to Bagehot?s The English Constitution and Mackintosh in his The British Cabinet. A number of academics and politicians adhere to the view of Prime Ministerial dominance in modern British government. Tony Benn has written that ?the present centralisation of power into the hands of one person amounts to a system of personal rule in the very heart of our parliamentary democracy.? But how far does the theory of Prime Ministerial government correspond to the realities of British

Government? It can be argued that the Prime Ministerial government thesis seriously underestimates the many constraints under which Prime Ministers operate in practice. There is no doubt about the abundant powers at the disposal of the PM to which Crossman drew attention, saying the PM ?is now the apex not only of a highly centralised political machine but also of a highly centralised and vastly more powerful administrative machine.? His position as Leader of the majority party in the House of Commons together with his position as head of the government, thus combining legislative and executive powers, amounts to ?an immense accretion of power.? Benn has emphasised the vast powers of patronage in the hands of the PM: the appointment (and dismissal) of ministers, senior judges,

bishops of the Church of England and the heads of a range of public services such as the chairman of the BBC. He also decides who should receive honours, notably peerages, and has the major influence in the appointment of senior civil servants like the Permanent Secretaries. Many of the PM?s powers derive from the powers of the royal prerogative. These extensive powers are wielded independently of Parliament and effectively give every PM the powers of Head of State. They include the right to appoint all ministers, to dissolve Parliament and so set the timing for a general election, to be in charge of the armed forces and the security services, to negotiate treaties and other diplomatic agreements and to summon and chair Cabinet meetings. The proponents of Prime Ministerial

government believe that the cabinet is the tool of the PM and that, in practice, government policy has long ceased to be decided at Cabinet meetings. PMs use Cabinet Committees (several of which they chair themselves), bilateral meetings with individual ministers, the No. 10 Policy Unit, the Cabinet Office and the Private Office, Think Tanks and ?kitchen cabinets? of personal aides nad advisers (Alistair Campbell, etc.), to shape policy and present it to the cabinet as a fait accompli. The cabinet as a collective body has been reduced to a clearing house and ratifier of decisions already taken. There are numerous examples of Cabinets being sidelined, fom Attlee?s decision to develop nuclear weapons to Mrs Thatcher?s personal decision to remove trade union rights from workers at

GCHQ. Unlike his or her ministerial colleagues, the PM is not tied up with a particular department and is ultimately responsible for co-ordinating government policy across the board. His or her potential impact on policy-making is therefore enormous and a pro-active PM like Mrs Tatcher intervened extensively in departments and left her personal imprimatur on an array of policies from education to local government and privatisation. All of this suggests that the PM can act as a virtual autocrat, but the reality is different. Constituationally Britain has Cabinet government. This means that only the Cabinet can authorise government decisions. True, most PMs try to manipulate the Cabinet to go the way they want, but no PM can defy the Cabinet or hold out against its unified