In this assignment, I will clearly analyse the concept of prime ministerial versus cabinet government. I will talk about the role of the prime minster and the cabinet and assess the prime ministerial power versus the cabinet. All sources of information will be referenced. The cabinet is the executive committee of the government and all its members are appointed by the Prime Minister and it is chaired, answerable to and accountable to the prime minister (Wilson 2003). The cabinet is formed to decide on major policies to be adopted in the country and abroad.
They also deal with unforeseen major problems such as terrorist’s attacks and the cabinet also meets to coordinate the policies of different departments and planning of long tem government policies. All government decisions are taken collectively and defeat on a motion of confidence requires the resignation of all members of the government. According to BBC News (2003), Clare Short who was secretary of state to international development resigned in 2003 as she did not support the British government going to war with Iraq without a clear mandate from the United Nations.
According to BBC News (2003), Robin Cook who was the leader of the House of Commons also resigned over the Iraq war stating that he could not accept collective responsibility for the decision to commit Britain now to military action in Iraq without international agreement or domestic support. The prime minister is the one who holds the power over the cabinet as he can appoint the minister to the cabinet, dismiss them or promote them. The prime minister chairs the cabinet, decides on the agenda and he is the one who ultimately decides on how different issues will be dealt with.
The prime minister controls the way a policy is processed, sets the framework for ministerial policies, holds the power in making executive decisions and may make important decisions with whom he wishes and sometimes without reference to other cabinet members. The prime minister also holds power to create cabinet committees which are set up to deal with specific policy problems. The prime minister can decide on which committee to be set up and has got the power to decide on who chairs it and who sits on it.
According to Forman and Baldwin (1999), the prime minister can exploit the use of bilateral meetings with individual ministers in order to divide and rule any collective opposition within the cabinet to preferred policies. All preparations and timing of the cabinet decisions is very munch in the hands of the prime minister which gives the holder of the position a real advantage over the rest of the cabinet. Wilson (2003) states that Tony Blair uses his cabinet much less than John Major did and attends its meetings for only a short time.
Tony Blair generally prefers to lay down his preferred policies and expects agreements from its cabinet members. However John Major did not insist on collective decision and it was stated that in his last years his cabinet was very divided and his performance seems weak and ineffectual. (Wilson 2003). In various textbooks, Tony Blair is compared to Margaret Thatcher. He likes to take a presidential approach to government while his other cabinet ministers will stay in the background unless there is a controversy or policy initiative.
It is very rare that Tony Blair will have cabinet debate and his meetings are usually short, tightly managed and focused on delivering information. According to Dearlave and Saunders (1993), Margaret Thatcher was a high-profile prime minister whose office was more powerful than the cabinet and she very often choose to do it her way without the support of the cabinet. However Dearlave and Saunders (1993) also state that the fall of Thatcher from power was due to the fact that she did not have the support of the cabinet anymore.
The prime minister might hold power over cabinet appointments, promotions and dismissals but according to Dearlave and Saunders (1993), he can hardly do this at will as senior ministers have their own political standing. Although the prime minister has the power over various issues of the cabinet, he still needs the support of its members if he wants his government to be seen as secure and for the government to continue to have the parliament and the public.
According to Barnett (2002), splits in cabinet over policy issues and ministerial resignations damage the authority of the prime minister and government as a whole and undermine public confidence in the strength of the government. Barnett (2002) also states that if the prime minister cannot control his cabinet effectively, this might leads to his downfall or if he fails to keep key ministers and the parliamentary party loyal in his support.
In conclusion, I can say that the prime minister remained the one who holds the power over the cabinet and his political party and is regarded as the most powerful politician in the country. However for the government to stay united and secure the prime minister needs to have the full support of its cabinet ministers and if the cabinet is not being run effectively, this can contribute to the downfall of the prime minister.
Courtney from Study Moose
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