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Unit 4: Cabinet Government and Political Parties . Readings: Norton CH 4 and 5 Dunleavy CH 3 and 4. Guiding Questions . What constitutes “the government” in the British system? What is the role of the Prime Minister? The Cabinet? Does Parliament “matter”?

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Unit 4 cabinet government and political parties

Unit 4: Cabinet Government and Political Parties


Norton CH 4 and 5

Dunleavy CH 3 and 4

Guiding questions
Guiding Questions

  • What constitutes “the government” in the British system?

  • What is the role of the Prime Minister? The Cabinet?

  • Does Parliament “matter”?

  • What are the major political parties in the UK?

  • How has the party system affected policy?

The british executive branch
The British Executive Branch

  • The legislative functions of the British system are vested in parliament.

  • The executive functions of the system are vested in the government.

  • Executive includes: the PM, Cabinet, support staff and civil servants/bureaucracy.

    • Whitehall-location of executive agencies.

    • 10 Downing Street-Residence of the PM.

The british prime minister
The British Prime Minister

  • Current PM: Gordon Brown

  • High visibility enhances position within party and parliament.

  • 1) Selects the Cabinet

  • “First among equals”.

  • Position not created by statute; created by convention.

  • 2) Winning elections.

  • 3) Media campaigning.

  • 4) Maintain confidence of party.

  • 5) Perform well in parliament.

  • 6) Balance domestic and international politics.

  • Performance/emphasis has varied amongst PMs.


  • Consists of senior ministers chosen from either the Commons or the Lords.

    • Serves at the pleasure of the Prime Minister

  • Decisions have been increasingly centralized in PM’s office.

  • Once a decision is reached, all must support it publicly.

  • Ministers responsible for day-to-day functioning.

Does parliament matter
Does Parliament Matter?

  • Halisham (1976): Coins the idea of the British executive as an “elected dictatorship”

  • Lawmaking functions are becoming increasingly dominated by the government rather than parliament.

    • Elected government is expected to pass the legislation listed in its manifesto.

    • But oversight functions of Parliament are reduced as members wanting to join cabinet have incentives to toe the party line.

  • Ability to vote “no confidence” exists; rarely used successfully

    • Callaghan was the last PM to lose a vote of confidence.

Does parliament matter1
Does Parliament Matter?

  • Governments control the parliamentary timetable.

  • Nearly all bills need government support for passage.

    • Private members bills are very difficult to enact.

  • Governments have a lot of tools to enact their legislation.

    • 1) Generally have a parliamentary majority

    • 2) Appoint committee members on the basis of loyalty

    • 3) Can use the guillotine procedure in the Commons to speed up debate

    • 4) Ministers and whips can pressure MPs to overturn wrecking amendments; they have “carrots and sticks” at their disposal.

Does parliament matter2
Does Parliament Matter?

  • Commons oversight capability lackluster until the 1970’s

  • Oversight reform evolving.

    • 1) Select committees created to scrutinize how policies are implemented

    • 2) National Audit Office examines how public funds are spent

    • 3) Joint Committee on delegated legislation oversees statutory instruments.

  • Time constraints, party loyalty incentives, and small budgets hamper effective oversight.

  • Expertise of Lords often used as a basis for oversight

    • Standing committees on EU, technology, and delegated legislation.

  • Lords also suffers from a lack of resources; staffing and office needs are very limited.

Political parties and parliamentarism
Political Parties and Parliamentarism

  • Party discipline is higher in the UK (and other parliamentary systems) then it is in presidential systems.

    • Key given the confidence relationship.

  • Nationally, there are “two and a half” dominant parties:

    • Labourand the Conservatives(Tories).and the Liberal Democrats.

  • New parties are springing up but not winning seats in the national Parliament.

    • BNP, UKIP, Respect

  • Nationalist parties are strong in Wales (PC) and in Scotland (SNP).

  • Northern Ireland has its own party system.

Political parties as organizations
Political Parties as Organizations

  • Political parties seek members to assist with campaigns, provide support, and fund party activities.

  • Party membership is declining across the board.

    • Membership dues are declining.

  • Party members are likely to be more ideologically driven than the mass electorate.

  • Both Labour and the Conservatives have struggled to balance support within their party with maintaining the support of the electorate.

Center left labour
Center-Left: Labour

  • Eclipsed Liberals in early 1900’s.

  • Draws support from the working classes.

  • Historically, “socialist” in ideology.

    • party drifted towards the center under Blair.

  • Rejection of commitment to nationalization critical for making the party “electable”

    • But this has split the party.

  • Classification: social democratic.

Center liberal democrats
Center: Liberal Democrats

  • Merged with the Social Democrats in 1988.

  • Mixture of old Liberals and disgruntled Labour members.

    • Attempts to coalesce with Labour at national level have come to naught.

  • Economically liberal; socially libertarian.

  • Seat share has been on the rise; electoral system disadvantages the party.

  • Often a protest vote; could hold the balance of power in a hung parliament.

  • Classification: liberal

Center right conservatives
Center-Right: Conservatives

  • Historically, a party of the elite.

  • Shift to a “catch-all” party once Labourbecame electorally viable.

  • Economically liberal; historically socially conservative.

  • Leadership under David Cameron makes a return to government conceivable for the first time since 1992.

    • Social conservatism weakened under current leadership.

  • Classification: conservative

The nationalists snp and pc
The Nationalists: SNP and PC

  • SNP: Scottish Nationalist

  • PC: Plaid Cymru

  • Economically and socially left of center.

  • Both call for creation of a separate state

    • Although these calls are stronger in Scotland.

  • Have played a critical role in devolved institutions

    • Limited effect at the national level.

Party politics in northern ireland
Party Politics in Northern Ireland

  • DUP/UUP: represent Protestant (Loyalist) voters.

    • DUP is more extreme.

    • Both are center/center-right.

  • SDLP/SF: represent Catholic (Nationalist) voters.

    • SF is more extreme.

    • Both are center/center-left

  • SF and the DUP are on the rise

    • Moderate parties have lost some ground.

The british party system and governance
The British Party System and Governance

  • Stage One (1945-1979): Consensus politics

    • Labour and Conservatives accepted expanded social welfare system and an interventionist state in the economy.

  • Stage Two (1979-1997): Return to politics

    • Thatcherism marked a return to a divided left and right.

  • Stage Three (1997-present): Convergence Politics

    • Blairism accepts some goals of Thatcherism; Conservatives accept some goals of Blairism.

Stage one creating a postwar consensus
Stage One: Creating a Postwar Consensus

  • 1945: First Labour government elected.

  • Manifesto based on consensus created during interwar era to

    • 1) provide social security (BeveridgeReport)

    • 2) promote full employment

    • 3) reform of the educational system.

  • 1945-1948: National health care established.

  • 1948: National Health Service established.

Stage one maintaining the postwar consensus
Stage One: Maintaining the Postwar Consensus

  • Keynesian economic model adopted.

  • Use monetary policy to promote full employment.

  • Management of economy rather than nationalization.

  • 1951: Conservatives elected.

    • Did not end consensus.

    • Accepted expanded welfare state and Keynesianism.

Stage one extending consensus
Stage One: Extending Consensus

  • 1951-1964 Conservatives maintained and expanded these programs without increasing taxes.

  • 1960’s associated with decline in empire and an economic downturn, but living standards continued to rise.

  • Minor tweaks needed to maintain the NHS

    • State began to charge for prescriptions to maintain NHS.

  • Parties continued to agree on ends but differed over the meansto achieving said ends.

Stage two end of consensus
Stage Two: End of Consensus

  • The 1970’s brought economic instability.

  • 1974-1979 saw several switches in governments in response to economic decline.

    • Hung parliaments coupled with continued political unrest and instability empowered the extremes in both parties.

  • 1979: Thatcher’s Conservatives elected

    • End of consensus

Stage two thatcherism
Stage Two: Thatcherism

  • No nonsense approach to policymaking.

    • TINA: “There is no alternative”

  • 1) Reduce money supply to reduce inflation

  • 2) Undermine deals over wage increases with government employees and trade unions.

  • 3) Reduce the public sector and encourage free market economy (privatization).

  • 4) Free labor by weakening trade unions.

  • 5) Restore law and order.

    • Return to “values”

Stage two thatcher s out
Stage Two: Thatcher’s Out

  • Thatcher wins big in 1983 and 1987

    • Labour is not seen as viable.

  • 1990: After 11 years, support for Thatcher was waning both within her party and within the electorate.

    • The poll tax proved to be Thatcher’s undoing within the electorate.

    • Vow to “go on and on” fostered a revolt within the party.

    • Inability to obtain a win in the first round of a leadership election led to her ouster.

  • John Major becomes PM; continues privatization, but changes his relationship with the Cabinet.

    • Less “heavy handed” than Thatcher.

Stage two the road to blairism
Stage Two: The Road to Blairism

  • Labour drifted leftwards under the Thatcher government.

    • Was trounced in 1979, 1983, and 1987.

  • Remained committed to nationalization

  • Seen as both anti EU and anti US.

  • Was ahead in the polls in 1992, but Tories pulled out a win.

    • Loss in 1992 led to re-examination of policies.

Stage three blair and new labour
Stage Three: Blair and New Labour

  • Blair and Brown both discuss running for the Labour leadership.

    • “Agreement” between the two that Blair will lead first and then turn over to Brown will motivate the Blair/Brown relationship.

  • Tony Blair becomes leader of the Labour party in 1994.

    • Electability key to winning the leadership.

    • Sought to moderate Labour’s position on nationalization.

  • Triangulation (placing New Labour in between Conservatives and Old Labour) was a double edged sword.

Stage three blairism and convergence
Stage Three: Blairism and Convergence

  • Economics: promote financial stability and low inflation.

  • Favors state activity in society (i.e. state role in health care and education): Old Labour.

    • But allow for individual choice: New Labour.

  • Shift towards “quasi-federalism” via devolution.

  • Pro US/EU policy.

    • A shift from previous Labour leadership.

  • Conservatives under Cameron have accepted many of these ideas.




  • 1) Similar relationships with Cabinet.

    • Decisions made before consulting with entire cabinet.

  • 2) Support of free market mechanisms.

  • 3) Continue reduced role for unions.

  • 4) Foreign policy similar regarding US.

  • 1) Blair declared support for universal health care,

    • Thatcher wanted to reduce the state’s role.

  • 2) Blair favored devolution; Thatcher favored centralization.

  • 3) Foreign policy differed over EU.

    • Thatcher opposed deepening, Blair more supportive.

  • 4) Stress on traditional values differs across governments.

Evaluating blairism
Evaluating Blairism

  • New Labour as “Post Thatcherite and social democratic”

  • Made Labour electable, but…

  • Unclear Blair has transformed his party (but then again, neither did Thatcher).

  • Does not share the same feelings towards Labour as Brown.

    • Blair is more instinctively Liberal; Brown is more instinctively Labour.

  • Devolution and support for free market probably solid under Brown; both supported by the Conservatives.

  • Continued convergence likely in the short term.


  • National politics is still dominated by Labour and the Conservatives even though many contend their politics are converging.

  • The possibility of a “hung parliament” boosts interest in the Liberal Democrats.

  • New political parties are rising within the electorate; the electoral system for Parliament all but shuts these parties out in Westminster.

  • Differing electoral systems for the European Parliament and devolved institutions give these parties a voice in European and regional institutions.

Next unit
Next Unit

  • Theme: Campaigns and Elections

  • Readings:

    • Norton CH 7 and Dunleavy CH 1 and 5

    • Finish Archer