To what extent has the post of Prime minister become more presidential During the post war period of the last fifty years there has been a perception that British prime ministers have become increasingly presidential and the two individuals connected with this thinking are Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Many commentators have argued and debated Thatcher's role as PM in a time where many consider cabinet government to have weakened creating a stronger and more powerful prime minister.
However there has also been evidence to suggest that between 1958-63 Harold Macmillan displayed presidential tendencies when he took to running British foreign policy almost single handedly and enjoyed a remarkable relationship with the media. In contrast to this both Jim Callaghan (1976-79) and John Major (1990-1997) appeared to return to the traditional cabinet. This illustrates that there has not been a constant and progressive line towards presidency. Key to this question, is that definitions of presidency are in effect based upon personality opposed to substance, as Dennis Kavanagh has implied this in his studies of Thatcher,
"Mrs Thatcher's success as a Prime Minister illustrates the importance of the office holders personality rather that institutional change"1 When discussing presidency the American model is preferred, as it is the most dominate of presidential models in the world. The president gains authority from the people who elect him, the PM also gains authority through elections however under the current system it is considered that he does not have a majority of votes and therefore does not have a popular mandate.
, He is also elected by MP's first as leader of his party, only becoming PM when the party win the election. This is in contrast to the president who is chosen outright by the people, not his party. However the president does not have to have the full support of the legislature. The president can afford to be defeated in Congress, and is expected to negotiate with the legislature rather than dominate it unlike the PM. Perhaps the most notable difference between the two is that the president is also the head of state, in Britain this is the Monarch.
The president can play head of state and head of government roles off against one another appealing to the electorate. He or she is also seen as to represent the whole nation rather than just one specific party. Unlike the PM "The president also has a free hand in the appointment of cabinet and is not especially restricted by the wishes of their own party"2 It is often considered that Blair has tried to become 'the voice of the people' and thus changed his role to that of statesman rather than party politician.
This was seen in the weeks after the Princess of Wales's death in 1997 when Blair led the nation's mourning and spoke openly about the Princesses life. Another example was the Iraq war of 2003 when Blair did not follow his party's wishes and instead followed a course of action which he personally believed to be morally and politically justified and correct. However the USA has a far more rigid constitution, as it is written and the president must work within these constitutional constraints.
It is seen that the PM has a much more "flexible and malleable role"3 while the president is also under the obligations of checks on his power, in the USA for example there a significant separation of powers. The president does not have the key roles in the legislature that the British Prime minister has, he is also restricted by a fixed term of four years meaning he does not have the benefit of calling an election when he chooses.