Does Tony Blair Run a Presidential Style Administration

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In this paper, I intend to analyse the extent to which the current Labour administration shows the characteristics of a presidential government. To do this, the term ‘presidential' must first be defined. A definition of a presidential government that is generally accepted by political analysts is ‘a system of government in which the powers of the president are constitutionally separate from those of the legislature.' The British system of government is parliamentary and does not match the definition of presidential. Therefore, the question must be answered by looking at the individual features of a presidential government and comparing them with aspects of the Labour administration and Tony Blair in particular. I will conclude by summarising the arguments presented.

In 1997 it is fair to say that the Labour party was desperate after being out of power for fifteen years. But there was hope. A relatively new face had emerged to become the leader of New Labour. In an era when political parties are run like organisations and rely on numbers and strong leaders, Tony Blair filled his party with excitement and anticipation. He went on to lead the party to a landslide victory in the general election after a campaign that focused significantly on his personality. Inevitably, Tony Blair was idolised by his party for this achievement. However this wasn't the first time in British Politics that the emphasis was placed so strongly on an individual. Periods of the 1980s Thatcher government were described as presidential in style. These periods coincided with convincing election victories and strong cabinet allegiance. However as soon as public support faltered, Thatcher faced criticism from within her own party saying that she had filled the cabinet with compliant cronies. After Thatcher's resignation in 1990, all of the leadership candidates promised to restore cabinet government. This was obviously an important issue, especially for the disgruntled Tory backbenchers that had either been dismissed from the cabinet by Thatcher or never made it there in the first place. Could this have been a significant factor in the demise of the once unassailable Thatcher?

New Labour saw the British system of government, with ministers having their own powers and separate agendas, as being potentially dangerous for policy making and therefore called for some sort of coordination. Peter Mandelson was appointed in 1997 as a minister without portfolio. Mandelson's job was labelled ‘the government enforcer'. The idea of Mandelson's controversial post was to coordinate the government's policy making across departments to promote ‘joined-up thinking' and ‘joined up government' (Mandelson 1997). However, his appointment was seen by many political spectators as an attempt to centralise cabinet powers and threaten the relative autonomy of cabinet ministers. This ‘centralisation of power' was seen as a move towards a more presidential-style government. Others saw the ‘integration' as an essential strategy needed for New Labour to make an effective government and deliver on all of it's ambitious manifesto promises.

Some critics believe that rather than centralising and coordinating the powers of the cabinet, Blair is actually endeavouring to immobilize it completely. The question of Mr Blair ‘sidelining' cabinet was raised by Mo Mowlam in 2001 when she said after she resigned that "Cabinet government is dead" and "Tony's acting more like a president than a prime minister." Political commentators such as Nick Cohen have also said that the demise of the cabinet is already in effect. He describes cabinet meetings as "half an hour or less on a Thursday morning, when most of the real decisions are cut and dry before the meeting starts." Tony Blair is increasingly seen by politicians as a ‘chief-executive' rather than the ‘chairman of the board'. This issue was highlighted...
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