The United Kingdom is governed within the framework of a constitutional monarchy, in which the Monarch is the head of state and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is the head of government. Executive power is exercised by Her Majesty’s Government, on behalf of and by the consent of the Monarch, as well as by the devolved Governments of Scotland and Wales, and the Northern Ireland Executive. The Queen’s Role Although the Queen is no longer responsible for governing the country, she carries out a great many important tasks on behalf of the nation. Head of State As Head of State, the Queen goes on official State visits abroad.
She also invites other world leaders to come to the United Kingdom. During their visit, Heads of State usually stay at Buckingham Palace, or sometimes at Windsor Castle or Holvroodhouse in Edinburgh. Head of the Armed Forces She is the only person who can declare when the country is at war and when war is over, although she must take advice from her government first. Head of the Church of England A position that all British monarchs have held since it was founded by Henry VIII in the 1530s. The Queen appoints archbishops and bishops on the advice of the Prime Minister.
The spiritual leader of the Church of England is the Archbishop of Canterbury. Government Duties Every day ‘red boxes’ are delivered to the Queen’s desk full of documents and reports from the government ministers and Commonwealth officials. They must all be read and, if necessary, signed by the Queen. Represents the Nation The Queen represents the nation at times of great celebration or sorrow. One example of this is Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph monument in Whitehall. The Queen lays a wreath there each year to honour the members of the armed forces who have died fighting for their country.
Royal Garden Parties At least three Royal Garden Parties are held at Buckingham Palace each year and about 8,000 guests attend each one. Alongside her other duties the Queen spends a huge amount of time travelling around the country visiting hospitals, schools, factories and other places and organisations. The executive: one of the three ‘powers’ or ‘branches’ of the system of government. The executive’s prime responsibility is to use the power of the state to govern the country by executing the laws passed by the legislature, or by taking actions sanctioned in other ways by the representative assembly, and by supporting the judiciary in enforcing the laws.
The functions or role of the executive may be defined as follows. A support for the other branches of government The executive tends to be the leading branch of government in all liberal democracies. The executive branch generally has a role in supporting both the other branches. The legislature in Britain is particularly dependent on the executive, which has the power to call the legislature into emergency session and to dissolve it in preparation for an election. Although the judiciary is, in theory, independent, it also depends for support on the executive.
The execution of justice in Britain is a cooperative effort in which the executive works closely with the judiciary and legislature. A democratic, representative function It is the function of government to exercise the will of the people in executive matters. In a democracy the executive is elected and is therefore in a sense a representative body. It needs therefore to act in the interests of the people if it is to be re-elected at the next election. It will offer a statement of its governmental intentions in its party manifesto at the election, as will the parties which are in opposition but are seeking to become the future government.
Thus the executive must rule according to the principles of what is called ‘representative government’. Responsive government In addition to this, the government needs to respond to the will of the people as expressed in the various groups and institutions which link the people and the executive. Pressure groups, political parties, the media and what is vaguely called public opinion will influence the government in what it does. This is known as responsive government.
To govern responsibly
But although the executive branch has to be responsive and representative in a liberal democracy, it must also run the country and do so in a responsible or sensible way. It may be necessary for the executive to exercise a leadership role and to run ahead of public opinion on unpopular issues like immigration or defence. An administrative role Just as a business has to be efficient in its operations, so the government should attempt to run the country, or administer it, as well as possible according to the rules of good government. To cover the great range of government business
The government must specialize and show expertise in a wide range of policy areas. A brief summary of the main areas of government responsibility is as follows: Finance and economic policy, Home affairs (police, prisons, etc. ), Education, Transport, Employment, The environment, Foreign policy and defence Health, Social policy and welfare Trade, industry Farming and fisheries Sport, culture and tourism. The Prime Minister The obvious answer to the question about where power lies in the British political system is to say that it is with the Prime Minister , and on the whole this is probably the best answer to give.
The Prime Minister seems, on balance, to control more resources than his potential rivals in the core executive. The functions of the Prime Minister The first Minister, or head of the government The Prime Minister is the leading figure in the government. Since the days of Robert Walpole (in power 1721-42). The Prime Minister speaks to the monarch at least once a week about the conduct of public affairs. Most importantly, the he or she can request what is called a dissolution of Parliament from the monarch – that is to say, can ask the monarch to bring the session of Parliament to a close and call a general election.
This means that the Prime Minister has the power to decide when there will be an election. In this process of liaison with the monarch, the Prime Minister is acting as the leader of the government. The chairman of the Cabinet The Prime Minister is head of a Cabinet of ministers and has to call a meeting of the Cabinet roughly once a week; he or she can decide on the precise timing of the meetings and their length and format. The Prime Minister sets the agenda of Cabinet meetings, chairs them and approves the minutes.
Associated with the Cabinet is an elaborate system of committees and a civil service department headed by the Cabinet Secretary. This Cabinet system is, in effect, dominated by the Prime Minister, who decides what Cabinet committees there will be and who will be on them. The leader of the government team The Prime Minister appoints the members of the Cabinet, and all government jobs are approved by him or her. The Prime Minister can ‘reshuffle’ the Cabinet from time to time, moving ministers from department to department, getting rid of unsuccessful or elderly ministers and bringing in talented newcomers.
It is true that the Prime Minister does not have a completely free hand here, but his or her power is still very great. The decision about when a minister should resign after a failure or scandal is in effect the decision of the Prime Minister, who can create new ministerial departments, reorganize and amalgamate them and decide which ministers have a seat on the Cabinet and which do not. The minister for the civil service The whole system of government depends on the Prime Minister and not just the elected ministers, but also the non-elected, professional civil service.
The Prime Minister supervises promotion at the higher levels of the civil service. The Prime Minister may also reorganize the Civil Service, reform and restructure it and change its overall complexion and attitude. The holder of great powers of patronage The Prime Minister, as has been said, appoints, promotes and dismisses people in the government and to some extent in the senior civil service too. The British Commissioner at the European Union is also nominated by the Prime Minister. In addition, he or she advises the Queen on appointments to the House of Lords and to the senior judiciary.
Both these last two pieces of patronage are currently under review and will be limited in the future, and even at the moment the Prime Minister does not have a completely free hand. The PM has to act according to protocol and has to consult various groups. Coordinator of government policy and ideology Working with individual ministers, and through the Cabinet, the Prime Minister coordinates government policy. This process begins before an election is won, when the broad outlines of policy are sketched out – and then supervised – by the prospective Prime Minister in his or her party’s manifesto.
If elected, the Prime Minister will be expected to ensure that this policy statement is implemented; he or she tends to give the development of policy a particular ideological flavour and in some ways tries to lead the government in this area too. Thatcher led her governments as a Thatcherite; Mr Blair has been a ‘New Labour’ Prime Minister. The overseer of the work of Cabinet colleagues Not only do Prime Ministers coordinate policy, they also get involved, to a greater or lesser extent, in the work of their Cabinet colleagues, depending on their particular interests and abilities.
Some Prime Ministers are more inclined to do this than others, but all will be interested in the really important areas of policy, such as foreign affairs, economic policy and home affairs. Some Prime Ministers seem to want to control all policy and treat individual ministers as subordinates whose function it is to carry out their orders. Others are more collegial in their approach. The leader of the major political party in the House of Commons The Prime Minister will, by definition, be head of the largest political party in the House of Commons and will have a role in leading that party.
This role continues after the Prime Minister has taken up residence in 10 Downing Street. He or she will attend party conferences, and will work closely in running the party with party officials in London. Part of this role will include fundraising for the party, and electioneering. The chief spokesman for the party and the government in Parliament The Prime Minister is in some respects the most important person in Parliament, although the level of prime ministerial attendance in the House of Commons has declined over the past century.
Nowadays the Prime Minister tends to leave the day-to-day management of Parliament to the Leader of the House and government whips. But nevertheless he or she will be there to lead major debates . The chief government and party spokesman in the country The Prime Minister has a role as the chief communicator of his or her political party and the chief spokesman for the government. This goes beyond a parliamentary role and involves frequent appearances in the media, on television, writing newspaper articles, and giving interviews or press conferences.
Representative of the country abroad and a national figurehead at home The Prime Minister has increasingly adopted roles which, in the past, have been associated with the head of state or a member of the royal family. Visits to foreign dignitaries, attendance at summit meetings and at the funerals of foreign heads of government and state, the communication of expressions of grief or condolence to countries struck by some disaster: all of these seem increasingly to be part of the work of a Prime Minister.
Even at home, the Prime Minister is expected to perform similar ceremonial functions. The Cabinet of the United Kingdom is the collective decision-making body of Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom, composed of the Prime Minister and some 22 Cabinet ministers, the most senior of the government ministers. The Cabinet is the executive committee of Her Majesty’s Privy Council, a body which has legislative, judicial and executive functions, and whose large membership includes members of the Opposition.
Its decisions are generally implemented either under the existing powers of individual government departments, or by Orders in Council. The functions of the Cabinet are policy making, the supreme control of government and the coordination of government departments. The Cabinet, therefore has two main roles; to propose legislation and to supervise administration. Full meetings of the Cabinet usually take place once or twice a week, each only taking a maximum of two hours in duration.
It is therefore not feasible for the full Cabinet to carry out detailed policy making over all areas covered by government policy. The Cabinet’s dual role rests upon the party system. The outcome of elections determines the party balance in the Commons, and therefore which party or parties forms the government. The government then has a duty to implement party policy as presented in its election manifesto, the Cabinet’s policy-making role clearly has a party political dimension. The Cabinet also depends on party support in the House of Commons for its continued existence.