The Prime Minister is the leader of the party that has been voted into power by the electorate, and runs the country on behalf of the people who voted for them and the party that they represent. The current Prime Minister is Tony Blair, leader of the Labour Party. He gained a huge majority of seats in parliament, over 150 more than the other parties put together. It is due to this power, that some political commentators are linking this with what they see as arrogant behaviour in the Prime Minister.
Yet the debate on whether the Prime Minister has a large amount of power for quite a while, back to a political commentator called Sidney Low. He suggested that a contributing reason to an increase in power of the PM was the 'increasing size of cabinets', which he felt 'caused the figure of the PM to stand out more… ' Evidence for this can be seen even now. If you were to ask anyone off the street whom the Minister for Health or Minister for Education was, the likely response from that person would be that they would not know.
The increasing size of the cabinets over the years may well be so that the Prime Ministers can spend more time on the public relations front, perhaps leading to a belief among people that it is he who runs the country, on his own. Richard Crossman, writer of The English Constitution (1962), came up with the idea that Britain had acquired a structure where the PM has absolute power. He states 'The post-war epoch has seen the final transformation of Cabinet Government into Prime Ministerial Government… the Cabinet now joins the dignified elements of the constitution. ' Prof.
John Mackintosh also feels that the Cabinet has taken a background role to the Prime Minister, 'the country is run by the Prime Minister, his colleagues, junior ministers and civil servants. ' Each feels that the Cabinet is less important than it once was. Ex-Conservative MP Humphrey Berkeley also feels that that the House of Commons in general is in a decline, giving way to the more powerful position of the Prime Minister, even going as far as saying 'We now have almost unchecked presidential rule… (defect) of government is the excessive power of the Prime Minister.
' He feels that we are now in more of a presidential rule government, where the president makes all the decisions. He also feels that the PM must be stripped of the ability to dissolve parliament, and move to a fixed term parliament of 4 years, with a PM only being allowed two terms in office, a move that would make the system in Britain effectively the same as in the United States. Jim Prior, who suffered disagreements with Margaret Thatcher during her term as PM, said that the power that the PM possesses in awesome and not fully appreciated.
During Thatcher's term, many critics felt that she stretched the power of the position to its limits. Tony Benn also feels that the PM has too much power, stating that the powers 'encroach upon the legitimate rights of the electorate, undermine the role of parliament and effect Cabinet decision making. ' There are four main areas that are suspected of contributing to the increase in Prime Ministerial power, which occurred mostly during the twentieth century (though can be seen during William Gladstone's era, mostly involve improvements in technology.
The power of television has provided the PM the opportunity to address the nation directly and personally. During a crisis or before a big action, such as before the war in Iraq, Tony Blair used the TV to address the nation, to drum up support for the campaign, he also informed the public of why action was being taken and what was to happen. The new opportunity for diplomacy has also contributed well. Due to improved transport, the world has become a smaller place, and travelling to summits and other meetings has become easier.
When people see Tony Blair in Africa to discuss aid to the continent, or seen talking to the President of America, people see him as an international figurehead, which helps enhance his power over the people. Determining the election date also holds a lot of power for the PM, as the date can be set to coincide with good spell for the party, such as during an economic mini-boom, which can help restore some voter confidence for the party.
Finally, wartime leadership can result in the leaders showing their strength, which voters like in leaders, as they 'swapped' Neville Chamberlain for Winston Churchill during the 2nd World War, and Margaret Thatcher demonstrated her strength during the Falklands War, and after succeeding in a war, it usually takes a while for them to lose power and support. These four reasons have each given the office a much higher profile. In 1987, Prof. Philip Norton suggested that there were 4 types of Prime Minister; these were Innovators, Reformers, Egoists and Balancers.
Innovators are said to use their position to achieve things that have something to do with their particular beliefs, such as Margaret Thatcher. Reformers use their power to achieve beliefs of their party, such as Clement Atlee (Welfare State). Egoists seek power, once obtained; they seek to stay in power as priority. There is more of a desire to survive than achieve (Crossman feels that Harold Wilson falls into this category). Balancers are those who want to keep the party and country united, such as John Major, and James Callaghan.
Though perhaps these characterisations should have to be taken into account that a prime minister can display more than one characteristic. Though Prime Ministers may not be all powerful. I. e. John major required influential friends, like Chris Patten, to help him stay afloat in his term, and Tony Blair requires help from colleagues, such as Gordon Brown. Also, maybe more importantly, a limitation to their power is the House of Lords, with their power to reject/accept legislation. Though many still think that 10 Downing Street is the powerhouse of the government.