Are British Prime ministers as powerful as is sometimes claimed?
It is often argued that in this day and age, Prime ministers are almost untouchable within the British political system, due to the shear number of powers that the Prime minister holds, and the prerogatives that he utilises. However, due to a handful of checks and balances on the government, and the Prime minister not being separated from the political system, which means he or she is liable to these checks and limitations, the Prime minister may therefore not be perceived as all that powerful.
As previously mentioned, the Prime minister enjoys a collection of powers within the UK political system. Firstly, the ...view middle of the document...
Another example of this might be John Major, who only had a 22 seat majority. Another, more recent example that could be used is of David Cameron, when he was in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
This meant that he did not have a majority in the House of Commons so would therefore have to try and change his policies in order to gain the support of the other leading parties. In some ways, this was more suited to Cameron than most, due to his quite pragmatic style of leadership.
Many argue that British prime ministers are surely as powerful as is sometimes claimed, due to the way in which they can dominate a cabinet. For example, Tony Blair. With his huge landslide majority, he did not need cabinet meetings, as the decisions he made would almost definitely be supported by most in cabinet, regardless of whether he had truly discussed it with them previously. This is why Blair used something known as Sofa Politics which implied that Blair ran his government through unofficial and off the record meetings with select cabinet members. Rather than consulting whole departments, or calling full meetings with the whole cabinet.
Lastly, because of the powers that Blair had as Prime minister, he was able to appoint who he wanted to his cabinet, so he could ensure the support of his decisions as he would appoint mainly Blairites who would mostly agree with his policies. Thatcher can also be used as another example of this, as she was often criticised for surrounding herself in Thatcherites in an attempt to pass everything she put through the commons.
But contrary to these ideas, some would argue that not all Prime ministers possess that dominant personality like that of Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair, so would therefore find it more difficult to control cabinet, and on top of this, it may also result in the loss of faith of the public and media. For example, Gordon Brown was a highly intellectual man, but clearly lacked the qualities of a domineering leader. Compared to Blair, he sounded like a much less calm and controlled person, as well as coming across as quite frantic and disorganised. As a result of this, he became an attacking point for the media, as they saw him as a viable target for the blame of the recession. Due to the fact that he himself was not elected as PM he decided that he would therefore be unable to control the cabinet he had taken control of. Because of this, he made the biggest cabinet reshuffle in the history of the UK political system. Leaving only one cabinet member in the same position as when Blair was PM.