To what extent have Prime Ministers become more powerful in recent years? (40 marks)
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the head of government and so exercises many of the executive functions nominally vested in the Sovereign, who is head of state. According to custom, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, which he or she heads, are accountable for their actions to Parliament, of which they are members by modern convention. Within the current government, David Cameron has clearly continued the trend of exploiting his office in order to focus the media on him as an individual. This certainly gives the impression of more individual dominance rather than collective decision making as has been the case for other recent PMs. But when we consider such developments in terms of actual increases in power for the PM, it may be a matter of style rather than substance. Cabinet has certainly declined as a full forum for decision making. e.g. BoE independence was made by the Blair/Brown axis not full cabinet. Under Cameron, George Osborne appears closer to the PM’s ear than most. Therefore PM power has increased in this sense. Furthermore, recent PMs have increasingly sought the advice of special advisers. Blair’s press secretary, Alastair Campbell, became known as ‘the real Deputy Prime Minister’. These tactics certainly afford the PM more power. Another recent phenomenon is one whereby the electorate focus on the head of the government rather than the government as a collective, suggesting that we have a single executive representing entire governments. This might have something to do with the way politics is now reported on TV where the PM gets far more coverage than the rest of their Cabinet and this suggests an increase in PM power. The personal style of governance of recent PMs also extends to their habit of taking personal control over departmental affairs; Under Blair an example could be Northern Ireland. Whilst under...
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