The Prime Ministerial Government Thesis Underestimates The — страница 2

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opposition. There are as many examples of Prime Ministerial defeats in Cabinets as victories. Neville Chamberlain was crucially overruled by his cabinet on sending an ultimatum to Germany in 1939. Maggie Thatcher in fact endured many bruising battles in Cabinet over economic and fiscal policy in her first administration, and over Europe and entry into the exchange rate mechanism in her third administration. Her aggressive and unyielding style of leadership led to the successive resignations of powerful ministers like Heseltine, Lawson and Howe. They became formidable political enemies and were instrumental in bringing about her own resignation in 1990. The relationship between a PM and his or her Cabinet colleagues may be anything but one of easy domination. John Major faced

damaging criticism from several ministers (one of whom, Redwood, challenged his leadership in 1995) and these divisions sapped his authority. Equally damaging can be party divisions. The PM?s party in the Commons is a further limitation on his power. For example, with a small parliamentary majority during Major?s ministry a handful of rebels were able to delay and even defeat various measures on the European policy. None of the weapons in the PM?s armoury, such as the withdrawal of the whip of calling a confidence debate, could enforce the necessary unity on the party; the rebels knew that they enjoyed the covert support of members of the cabinet. Even with her majority of 144, Maggie Thatcher lost control over her backbenchers when they brought about the defeat of the Shops Bill

in 1986. Both Wilson and Heath suffered demoralising defeats at the hands of their own supporters. Every PM enjoys fixed, formal powers, but the extent of his or her power overall depends on a number of variables. These include the PM?s personal abilities, political circumstances and ?events?. No two PMs are alike and no one can know how a particular PM will manage a crisis. Eden?s strategy over Suez was a miserable failure while Mrs Thatcher?s courageous (or foolhardy) strategy over the Falklands was an astonishing success. ?Strong? and ?weak? PMs tend to come in cycles: the dynamic Lloyd George gave way to the pacifying Baldwin; the confrontation Thatcher to the conciliatory Major. Of course the latter was not blessed with the former?s solid parliamentary majorities and string

of election triumphs. How would Mrs Thatcher have fared in less favourable circumstances? Was she in fact a ?lucky? PM thanks to North Sea Oil, General Galtieri and Arthur Scargill? Heath would no doubt call himself unlucky over the outbreak of war between Israel and Egypt in 1974. This led to the economic crisis which resulted in his electoral defeat. No model, least of all a catch phrase, can be anything more than a gross oversimplification of the dynamics of political power in British government. Prime Ministerial hegemony has existed but only for limited periods. Thatcher is testimony to both the potentialities of, and the limits to, the office of Prime Minister. 3df