Questioning the Prime Ministers governing style is common in today's society. Conventionally, the British government is referred to as a Cabinet Government, but many feel that the system is changing. Cabinet has become suspended and centralisation of power is occurring. In the 1960s, Conservative MP Humphrey Berkley claimed that Britain had an almost "unchecked presidential rule", and at the dawn of a new century, comparisons between Blair and Bush stretch beyond foreign policy to governing system.
The traditional view of a government is that the seat of power in terms of policy initiation and decision making lies in the Cabinet. They coordinate and control government policy as a whole. This view underlies the principle of collective responsibility. James Callaghan (1976-1979) and John Major (1990-1997) both displayed the traditional role of a Prime Minister. Both adopted a consensus-seeking, less strident, less decisive and more pragmatic approach to decision making. In 1992, John Major was labeled "Honest John" by the press because he was not domineering as compared to his predecessor, Margaret Thatcher.
Major did formalize practices that depict characteristics of a Cabinet Government. For example, according to Burch in 1994, Major introduced a "political" session after most Cabinet meetings. They have become a regular event. In addition, the Chief Whip, Leaders of both Houses and the Party Chairman met Major at the beginning of each week to review political and parliamentary developments expected in the week ahead. This brings the management more closely into the formal structure of the Cabinet system.
During Callaghan's first year in office, he started what has since become known as "The Great Debate" about the 'legitimate concerns' of a public about education as it took place in the nation's maintained schools. This discussion led to greater involvement of the government, through its ministries, in the curriculum and administration of state education, leading to the eventual introduction of the National Curriculum. Key to this question is that the definition of presidency is in effect based upon personality as opposed to substance.
Despite criticism in Callaghan's or Major's office, it is fair to say that British Prime Ministers do exercise some extent of a Cabinet system. It is decreasing in popularity nowadays when Prime Ministers like Tony Blair and Harold MacMillan displayed favourable presidential tendencies. A presidential system of government is characterised by a constitutional and political separation of powers between the legislature and executive. The assembly vests executive power in an independently elected president. When discussing presidency, the American model is preferred, as it is the most dominate of presidential models in the world.
It is true that British Prime Ministers are becoming presidential. Take for example, Tony Blair tried to be "the voice of the people" and thus changed the role to that of a statesmen rather than party politician. This was seen after Princess Diana's death in 1997 when Blair led the nation's mourning and spoke openly about the Diana being the "People's Princess". Another example was the Iraq War 2003; he did not follow his party's wishes and instead followed a course of action that he strongly believed was morally and politically justified.
In relation to the presidential role of a British Prime Minister, his power of patronage gas increased greatly. Similarly, the President appoints almost 4000 officials. The appointment of Lord Chancellor ensures that the Prime Minister is not allowed a voice in the House of Lords, but he also has the opportunity to expand his power of patronage. In recent years, the Prime Minister has also had a better grip on the media known as "spin". Alistair Campbell (Blair's communication director) and Blair's relationship has been criticised for bringing about an age of spin doctoring.
Blair's relationship with the media through Campbell has led people again to draw comparisons of his role to that of a President. His regular meetings with member of the press and his weekly conferences with representatives of the media shows once more how Blair manipulates the media through good relations to gain publicity. Many supported the idea that by "spinning", Blair has successfully acquitted the skills of being a President. Another important point to consider is elements such as spatial leadership. This is where the president detaches themselves from the legislature.
This is evident in British leadership. An example of this is John Major's Citizens Charter initiative while Blair has disowned MP's before political reports have been published which could damage the government. On the other hand, presidential style may not work unless Britain is ready to re-create its constitution. Prime Ministers are essentially accountable to their political parties. There is a restriction of policy through fear of splitting a party and this can be seen in Major's open-mindedness on the European Union and Blair's recent proposals for foundation hospitals.
The Prime Minister has the threat of being removed by his party; the most notable is Thatcher's removal in 1990. Asquith was also removed by his party in 1916 as well as Lloyd George in 1922 and Chamberlain in 1940. In conclusion, there is a momentous debate as to whether the Prime Minister has become more presidential. Within the British constitution, it is possible for Prime Ministers to stretch the power of the office and make the post their own. This explains why certain Prime Ministers have had a clear influence such as Thatcher and Blair while others do not.
Perhaps it is essential to look at the definition of president and whether Britain is ready to change its traditional constitution into one that is similar to America. Like what Tony Benn said "The present centralisation of power into the hands of one person has gone too far and amounts to a system of personal rule in the very heart of our parliamentary democracy" Many people consider the role of the Prime Minister has changed but it is believed that in the future, Britain will have its own model of presidency and perhaps elements of a Cabinet government.