How presidential has the Prime Minister become in recent years ?

Peter Henessy claims that the Prime Minister has been becoming more and more "presidential" since the 1970's and this is arguably true, as will be explored in this essay. Overtime the Prime minister, especially Thatcher and Blair, has become more and more of an "international figure" used as a tool on the international stage. This has historically been a characteristic of the US president and can easily be seen as a reason to label prime ministers as being Presidential.

They, just like their American counterparts spend much of their time representing the country, be it at a climate conference in Copenhagen or a publicity boosting tour of Afghanistan. This directly leads on to the point of "personality politics" taking more of a role in British politics than ever before. People tend to prefer characteristic and charismatic politicians such as Tony Blair as opposed to "boring", "un-commanding" and "unimpressive" ones such as Gordon Brown.

Election campaigns are now much more focused around the party leader, and future prime ministers than ever before. Recent examples are that of the Conservative party bill board featuring a big image of David Cameron with varying statements about how he will improve the economy and NHS for example. Perhaps a more important example is that of the TV debates in the lead up to the 2010 general election. These featured the 3 leaders of the big parties answering questions from a live audience, and focused as much on the individual party leaders as their policies.

This was further indicated with a massive surge in supposed support for the Liberal Democrats after their leader's impressive performance, but such support was highly criticised for being for the wrong reasons, based on a "theatrical personality performance" over cold hard facts and policies. Another key feature is that the role of the cabinet has diminished over the years. Historically cabinet meetings lasted hours, but under Tony Blair a record length of 35 minuets was achieved.

Instead he (Blair) preferred a more informal, ad-hoc, "sofa government" where cabinet members reported directly to him instead of in general meetings. This was epitomised by the half joke half serious comment of a senior Labour politician saying that the most important phrase in Government at the time was "Tony wants". Indeed it once was Tony Blair who said his new government would "govern from the centre". However it cannot be forgotten that in the UK the electorate still vote for a local candidate and thus a party and not directly for the proposed Prime Minister, as in the USA.

Furthermore despite an apparent decline in the importance of Cabinet, it still holds a significant level of authority in the long run, as Margret Thatcher found out. She once tried to stop the sale of British Motoring Company Land Rover to an American company (GM), but was blocked by her cabinet, who would later oust her from Government all together. Perhaps most importantly the Prime minister does not enjoy a fixed term like the US President does, and so is constantly accountable to the public and their own party. As a result the prime minister must make sure he keeps both his cabinet and party, as well as the general public onside.

In conclusion we can see that Henessy was right in saying that Prime Ministers have become more presidential over the years, despite the fact that there are still considerable checks on their power. Perhaps it is better to say that the Prime Minister is becoming more presidential in "appearance" but not so much in actual routine. It is also interesting whether or not this "presidentialisation" started even earlier with the likes of Lloyd George during world war 1, who showed an equal international presence as say Tony Blair did.