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Prime Minister, Cabinet and Core Executive

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  1. Prime Minister, Cabinetand Core Executive

  2. The Cabinet is the collective decision-making body of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, Cabinet Ministers are heads of government departments, mostly with the office of "Secretary of State for [function, e.g. Defence]". Since the reign of King George I the Cabinet has been the principal executive group of British government. Both he and George II made use of the system, as both were non-native English speakers, unfamiliar with British politics, and thus relied heavily on selected groups of advisers. The modern Cabinet system was set up by Prime Minister David Lloyd George during his premiership 1916–1922 (War Cabinet / subsequent crises) Pro’s and Con’s of a smaller cabinet? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabinet_of_the_United_Kingdom A Background

  3. Executive-Legislative Relations in the UK (1) • Dominance of UK executive over legislature • Govt emerges from & responsible to parliament • Govt members sit in parliament (MPs & Peers) • Govt (= executive) = PM/Cabinet + junior ministers • Fusion of executive and legislative power • NB: Presidential systems: separation of executive & legislature • 2-party system: single party majority Govt, strong party cohesion  strong executive

  4. Executive-Legislative Relations in the UK (2) • Cabinet = ‘efficient secret’ of British constitution (Bagehot) • Buckle between executive & legislature • Efficient (functional) vs dignified (symbolic) parts of constitution • Bagehot: Monarchy = dignified; Cabinet = efficient • Key relationship between Govt Front Bench & Govt Backbench MPs • Opposition ignored if Govt has a majority • Opposition important if Govt Backbench rebels vote with it

  5. The Prime Minister • No constitutionally enshrined role • Head of Govt; national leader (not Head of State) • Usually leader of largest party in Commons • Appointed by Monarch (convention) • Appoints Govt (patronage powers) • Formally ‘primus inter pares’ • Decides policy direction of Govt (but intra-party constraints) • Held to account in Commons at PMQ

  6. The Cabinet • 20-23 members (mainly MPs, some Peers) • Head Dept or Ministry – officially responsible • 3 main ministries: Treasury, FCO, Home Office • Not a voting body – no ‘majority rule’ • Overview of policy – no longer decision-making body • Meetings lasted 30-45 mins under Blair • Cabinet now a ‘dignified’ part of constitution? • Collective responsibility • Iraq War 2003 (Robin Cook) • Cabinet committees • More reliance now on bilateral / kitchen / inner meetings and task forces

  7. Classic Debate: Cabinet Govt vs Prime Ministerial Govt (1) Prime Ministerial Government • Power of patronage • No constitutional limits to PM’s power • Control of cabinet agenda • PM represents UK in internat. meetings • Govt’s links with media go through No 10 • New debate: ‘Presidential’ Govt?

  8. Classic Debate: Cabinet Govt vs Prime Ministerial Govt (2) Cabinet Government • One person can’t control everything in Govt • Factional balance in party • ‘Big beasts’ – powerful rivals • Power of ministerial resignation • Can harm PM – undermine his/her authority • Thatcher: Lawson (1989); Howe (1990) • PM must have support of senior colleagues • Thatcher lost ministerial support in 1990

  9. Prime Ministerial Style (1) • Post of PM often what incumbent makes it (Asquith 1928) • Thatcher – domineering, strong leadership • But sought left/right balance (early on) • Allowed ‘big beasts’ in Cabinet • ‘Bounced’ into ERM decision by Chancellor Lawson • Major – consensual, collegial  ditherer? • Constrained by small parliamentary majority • Forced to balance Europhiles and Eurosceptics • Clarke/Heseltine vs Portillo/Redwood

  10. PM Blair – strong leadership, ‘sofa Govt’ More emphasis on media relations ‘Blair presidential’ – but checks & balances Chancellor Brown & powerful Treasury EU single currency Public-service reform Deputy PM Prescott PM Brown Initially few constraints No powerful Treasury ‘Kitchen cabinet’ Damaged by events ‘Election that never was’ 10p tax row Plummeting poll figures Constrained by Blairites E.g. David Miliband Prime Ministerial Style (2)

  11. The Cabinet Office • Headed by Cabinet Secretary • Coordinates work of Depts • Important units in Cabinet Office • Delivery Unit, Performance & Innovation Unit (efficiencies) • Cabinet Office coordinates with PM’s Office • Together a PM’s Dept in all but name? • Cabinet Office not powerful unless backed by PM • Little bargaining power with Depts – persuades/coordinates • Less power over Depts than Treasury • Chancellor – bilateral meetings with ministers • Institutionalised in Comprehensive Spending Review – 3-year forward planned spending commitments drawn up with Depts

  12. Core Executive: Resources & ‘Exchange’ • PM just one powerful actor among many • E.g. importance of Treasury / Parliament / Events / Hostile Media • Process of political ‘exchange’ (bargaining) • PM mobilises support to implement major decisions • PM uses resources (authority, patronage, etc.) to bargain with ministers, who have their own resources (authority, support, policy networks) • Political context important • PM more powerful if Govt popular, policy successes, strong economy, big majority in House • Reading: M. J. Smith, The Core Executive in Britain (Palgrave, 1999), ch. 4

  13. Conclusion • Old debates about PM vs Cabinet Govt unresolved • Core executive debate more promising – acknowledges that power fluctuates • Realisation that PM (and ministers) can’t just make things happen on their own • Need support of other actors (more on this point next lesson)

  14. The Core Executive in the UK Core Executive = ‘Centre’ (black & dark grey inner circles) Governing party in parliament Media Senior military & security chiefs Executive agencies Whips, House Leaders PM’s Office Law officers Cabinet Office PM & Cabinet Special advisors Treasury Cabinet Committees Permanent Secretaries Secretaries of State, Ministers Local Govt Interest groups

  15. New Debate: The Core Executive • Collegial executive in UK • Core executive coordinates, directs, implements Govt policy and strategy • ‘… the UK core executive may be defined as Cabinet (incl. the Prime Minister), Cabinet committees, the Cabinet Office, the Prime Minister’s Office, parts of the Treasury, the major government law offices and those central elements engaged in managing the governing party’s parliamentary support base.’ Ian Holliday, in Dunleavy et al., Developments in British Politics 6, p.89 • Core executive goes beyond PM & Cabinet • Recent research focuses on power relations within core executive rather than old debates about PM or Cabinet dominance