Is the UK Prime Minister now effectively a President?

In the UK, the Prime Minister is now effectively a president and has gained more presidential powers because nowadays the prime minister performs most of the functions of a head of state. The media tends to concentrate on the prime minister as the personal spokesman for government now, as they also dominate foreign and military affairs, usually the functions of a president.

The absence of a codified constitution means prime ministers can act their role as they feel suits them. It has been argued that UK prime ministers are starting to increasingly resemble presidents, examples of this would be Wilson, Thatcher and Blair as they emphasise the dominance of the prime minister over cabinet.

By becoming more presidential, the roles and influence of prime ministers have changed the working of UK government in the following ways: There has been a growth of ‘spatial leadership’, which is when a prime minister distances themselves from their parties or government by presenting themselves through the use of a personal ideological stance, both Thatcher and Blair did this in their governments and have brought new ideologies by the names of Thatcherism and Blairism to politics.

’Populist outreach’ has become a tendency for prime ministers to attempt to relate with the members of the public by revealing their deepest hopes and fears for the country as reflected by prime ministers speaking for the nation over major events, crises or major news stories, this is where the media concentrates more on the prime minister as a personal spokesman for the government as a whole.

Election campaigns have become much more personalised as the media now emphasises personality and image in a campaign between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, because of this method of electoral campaigning, prime ministers nowadays sometimes claim more personal mandates, which allows them to act as if they are the definition of their party’s political ideologies. This was seen with Blair and his strong stances on Education and the welfare state in particular.

Also, in recent years prime ministers have tended to use more hand-picked advisors, think tanks and policy units as opposed to only using the cabinet for advice on policy making. This gives the impression that the cabinet now holds less importance than it once did in government, effectively making 10 Downing Street the UK equivalent of the White House. As the US president has his own staff and large executive office. Issues of Foreign and Military have grown in importance in recent years and so contribute to the prime minister’s presidential feel as they have the task of negotiating with foreign powers, attending international conferences and negotiating treaties.

All of these duties make the prime minister appear presidential. This would have been the case with Tony Blair and US presidents Clinton and Bush Jr as they forged close international relationships. This leads to Tony Blair being able to lead the country into an important foreign war in Iraq, as he sided with the US to go and invade the country, promising that it was in search of WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction).

Blair was able to do this because of his large majority, giving him a large amount of sovereignty within parliament, even with the wide disagreement across the nation on going into Iraq. Although arguments against the UK prime minister effectively being a president are made based on the fact that legally the prime minister is not the head of state for the UK, there has been no permanent change and the role of the prime minister is constantly changing as it is what the prime minister of the time wishes to make it.

Any change that has taken place in prime minister’s duties may seem more presidential but as a whole their role has not changed. Some Prime Ministers will seek to dominate while others are unwilling to do so. Thatcher and Blair are two examples of prime ministers who have been able to get as much power in office as they possibly could. Whereas weaker prime ministers like James Callaghan with minority parties were unable to even attempt to act as a presidential prime minister. Many argue that the UK prime minister is unique, unlike a president in the US because of the overlap between the executive and legislating branches of government.

Whereas in the UK the prime minister’s party has a majority in the upper legislative chamber, therefore they can use their parliamentary sovereignty, in America the legislature is independent from the president and can act as a barrier to his mandate. Another argument is prime ministers now only seem to be more presidential, often due to their portrayal by the media and the importance of their foreign policies; however they are still under the same restrictions that always existed around them.

This was seen with Tony Blair as he couldn’t join the euro because Gordon Brown, his chancellor yet almost an equal in his government had refused this act. Also it is thought that the more a prime minister attempts to stretch the length to which their power extends, the longer they are in office then the forces of constraint upon them become even stronger. This was seen during Thatcher’s time as prime minister as she gained more enemies the more she tried to exercise her power and control.

This eventually lead to her resignation as her enemies within the party and out turned against her as they felt they had enough power to remove her from office. David Cameron is an example of the prime minister not having the same status as a president, as he is leading a coalition government, making it less united and so he has no significant majority and this makes him exposed to more questioning of his actions and being held to account. Making it difficult for him to be the sole spokesperson for the nation like a president would be.

In conclusion, although the UK prime minister still retains his general powers and responsibilities this does not stop them being able to exercise the power they do have or stop them from adapting a presidential style of running the country, however this is only seen with large majority governments because it is easier for them to function and use this power presidentially. This is why the UK prime minister is now effectively a president in some departments but as a whole still remains a prime minister legally.