The Prime Minister and Cabinet

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Cabinet Government. The traditional or conventional view is that Britain has a cabinet system of government.This was first described by Walter Bagehot in his book The English Constitution" 1867.Cabinet government means that the important decisions about the running of the state are taken by the c

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The Prime Minister and Cabinet

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1. The Prime Minister and Cabinet by Mike Allen

2. Cabinet Government The traditional or conventional view is that Britain has a cabinet system of government. This was first described by Walter Bagehot in his book “The English Constitution” 1867. Cabinet government means that the important decisions about the running of the state are taken by the committee of senior ministers known as the cabinet.

3. Functions of the Cabinet 1 As described by the Haldane Report on the Machinery of Government 1918 It decides on the major policy to be followed on home and foreign affairs It may decide on details of policies though this would normally be left to departmental ministers or cabinet committees. It coordinates the policies of different departments though this would normally be left to departmental ministers or cabinet committees.

4. Functions of the Cabinet 2 It coordinates the policies of different departments and resolves disputes. It takes decisions on unforeseen major problems. It formulates plans for the future.

5. The role of the Prime Minister 1 This was conventionally described as being “primus inter pares” – first among equals (John Morley 1889) and this was used as late as 1964 by Lord Morrison in “Government and Parliament” This meant that though the Prime Minister was the chief spokesman for the government, in the cabinet their was equal discussion between colleagues.

6. The role of the Prime Minister 2 All political commentators would now agree that the PM has grown in powers so that to describe as first among equals is inaccurate. The chief dispute is about the possible use that a PM may make of his/her powers.

7. The Powers of the Prime Minister 1 By tradition the PM is First Lord of the Treasury and draws his salary in that role. The membership of the government. The PM decides upon the membership of the cabinet – approximately 20 (at present 24) and all other government appointments (about 80 junior ministers). The PM also appoints the Government Chief Whip and assistant whips. First bullet point from http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Governmentcitizensandrights/UKgovernment/Centralgovernmentandthemonarchy/DG_073444First bullet point from http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Governmentcitizensandrights/UKgovernment/Centralgovernmentandthemonarchy/DG_073444

8. The Powers of the Prime Minister 2 Continued The PM can dismiss ministers by requiring their resignation. The PM can reshuffle, promote or demote ministers. The structure of the Government The PM decides on what ministries their shall be and what responsibilities they shall have and can change these at any time e.g. The National Fraud Authority, an Executive agency of the Attorney-General's Office, was transferred to the Home Office in April 2011. The Business Secretary, Vince Cable’s role in regulating the media digital and telecoms was transferred to Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative culture secretary.

9. The Powers of the Prime Minister 3 The meetings of the Cabinet The PM decides upon the agenda The PM chairs the cabinet, guides the discussions and sums up its conclusions. The cabinet rarely votes, the PM ‘takes the feelings of the meeting’ Cabinet Committees The PM decides the membership, the terms of reference and the chairperson of the committee. The PM chairs some personally. The coalition has a chair and a vice chair from the 2 parties.

10. The Powers of the Prime Minister 4 Patronage The PM personally makes a large number of appointments and many others made by departmental ministers have to be approved by the PM. These would include top military, diplomatic and civil service positions, honours and many appointments to public and semi public bodies such as chairmen of public corporations, Royal Commissions and Committees of Inquiry.

11. The Powers of the Prime Minister 5 The PM coordinates progress on cabinet policies. The PM is the chief government spokesperson in the Commons and to the public. The PM is normally the leader of the majority party in the Commons and can command its support through discipline and loyalty.

12. The Powers of the Prime Minister 6 The PM has the sole right to advise the monarch to dissolve Parliament, though the Fixed Term Parliament Bill will change that. The PM is responsible for the Civil Service and the Cabinet Secretary is directly responsible to the PM. The PM is Minister for the Civil Service. The Bill fixes the date of the next General Election at 7 May 2015, and provides for five-year fixed terms. It includes provisions to allow the Prime Minister to alter the date by up to two months by Order. There are also two ways in which an election could be triggered before the end of the five-year term: if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is found or if a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the House or without division. http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2010-11/fixedtermparliaments.htmlThe Bill fixes the date of the next General Election at 7 May 2015, and provides for five-year fixed terms. It includes provisions to allow the Prime Minister to alter the date by up to two months by Order. There are also two ways in which an election could be triggered before the end of the five-year term: if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is found or if a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the House or without division. http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2010-11/fixedtermparliaments.html

13. The Prime Ministers powers All commentators agree that the Prime Minister is more than “primus inter pares” – first among equals The question is how great has the Prime Ministers powers become and has he/she become a Presidential figure?

14. Prime Ministerial Government 1 This term was coined by Richard Crossman in a “new” introduction (1963) to Walter Bagehot's classic book “The English Constitution”. Crossman argued that the cabinet had become a rubber stamping body for decisions taken elsewhere. The most important of these decisions, he argued were taken either by the PM alone, or with a group of ministers especially selected to give advice for that occasion.

15. Prime Ministerial Government 2 Though he originally wrote before he had governmental experience he became a cabinet minister and kept to his views – published in Inside View in 1970 and in his diaries published posthumously after 1974.

16. Prime Ministerial Government 3 Crossman’s Prime Ministerial thesis Ministers can be dismissed by the PM and are in the cabinet only as long as they retain the PM’s confidence. In 1962 Harold Macmillan sacked 7 out of his cabinet of 21 including his Chancellor of the Exchequer.

17. Prime Ministerial Government 4 Through his/her power over the agenda the PM can control what is discussed by the cabinet and by use of powers of chairing the meeting and summing up at the end can guide the cabinet to the conclusion that the PM wants.

18. Prime Ministerial Government 5 The PM can avoid the use of the cabinet by taking decisions personally, or with a group of ministers, or by the use of cabinet committees. The latter are seen as particularly important with the PM being able to decide their membership, and particularly the chair of the committee, the most important cabinet committees would be chaired by the PM. Also the PM would decide which decisions went to which cabinet committee and what their terms of reference were.

19. Prime Ministerial Government 6 The convention of collective responsibility (discussed further later) means that all members of the government have to publicly support government policy even if they were not involved in the decision. The PM may use patronage to gain his/her way. The PM’s control of the Civil Service is seen as crucial by Crossman. The head of the Home Civil service, the Cabinet Secretary is directly responsible to the PM.

20. Prime Ministerial Government 7 Through the No 10 Press Office the PM is in charge of government information and publicity. The daily briefings provide a coherent view of government actions that emanates from the PM. The PM is in control of the Commons because the party MPs support the leader and the whips ensure they vote the right way. The growing complexity of government enhances the role of the PM as coordinator

21. Prime Ministerial Government 8 Other claims to Prime Ministerial power (not Crossman) Elections have become contests between party leaders TV has enhanced the status of the PM. The power of dissolution can be used as a threat against rebellious MPs.

22. Prime Ministerial Government 9 Example of Prime Ministerial Power The decision to produce atomic weapons in 1948. The 1962 sackings. The decision to send the ultimatum to Egypt over the Suez canal in 1956. The decision to manufacture Chevalline in 1974 to uprate Polaris.

23. Prime Ministerial Government 10 Mrs Thatcher Mrs Thatcher's style was to give a definite lead. She said she would not waste time having arguments in cabinet. She was described as a conviction politician . She said "the Lady's not for turning " 1981 Conservative Conference. In the cabinet she made a practice of stating her view first rather than just summing up at the end. She dismissed prominent critics. A number of the wets were sacked in 1981 including Sir Ian Gilmore and Norman St. John Stevas. The leading wet Jim Prior was sent to Northern Ireland and thus neutralised. She made sure that her supporters were in the key economic ministries and that they were on the key cabinet committees. It is alleged that she bypassed the cabinet. Mr Heseltine said that she had cancelled a cabinet committee on Westlands in 1986 when he seemed to be gaining support amongst the cabinet.

24. Prime Ministerial Government 11 There was a reduction in the number of cabinet meetings, cabinet papers and the number of cabinet committees under Mrs Thatcher all suggesting that the cabinet took less important decisions. Mrs Thatcher used ad hoc meetings with ministers, sometimes with the entire ministerial team from a department. She also made use of outside advisors. It was her preference for relying on the advice of Professor Alan Walters rather than that of the Chancellor that caused Nigel Lawson to resign in 1989.

25. Prime Ministerial Government 12 She sent Sir Ian Bancroft, the head of the Civil Service and his deputy into early retirement in 1981 and subsequently took great interest in the appointment of top civil servants. She had great stamina and worked late and rose early. She had great persistence and the sheer length of time in office (11½ years) enabled her to get her way. Mrs Thatcher made extensive use of the honours system, particularly rewarding long serving backbenchers with knighthoods. The decision to allow the US to use their bases in Britain to bomb Libya in 1986 was made without the knowledge of the cabinet and even the Defence Secretary George Younger did not know. He was on local radio shortly before the attack stating that he did not think that it would be wise.

26. Prime Ministerial Government 13 Tony Blair Blair strengthened the No 10 civil service, so much that it is said that he had effectively created a Prime Minister’s Department – though he changed it many times and never seemed satisfied with it. He increased the number of outside advisors and seemed to rely more on their advice than ministers eg Alistair Campbell and Andrew Adonis,.

27. Prime Ministerial Government 14 Cabinet meetings were reduced to less than 1 hour Decisions were often taken alone or in a small group. Together these would seem to prove the Prime Ministerial Government thesis. However -

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