As government and Politics

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The Prime Minister vs. A President

To date there has been 53 of what we would recognise as Prime Ministers, 52 men and 1 woman (Margaret Thatcher). Each holder of this office has wielded their responsibilities differently and each has taken a slightly different role. These have mainly been defined by the Prime Minister themselves.
The Role of a Prime Minister is to be the First Minister of State; they are in theory the Queens chief advisor; however they are now in fact the Head of Government and are the ones who exercise the power to govern. They are the leading authority of Government. Although the Prime Minister is the Head of Government he is still accountable to Parliament and his power comes from Parliamentary Sovereignty, this is called a Parliamentary System.
Some have compared them to a President but there are some problems with this comparison.
Below is a table showing the two different styles Presidential (link in the USA) and our system Parliamentary.

Presidential System

Parliamentary System

  • The Executive is elected directly – the President

  • Accountable to the public not the legislature and can only be brought down through the process of impeachment

  • Ministerial powers are derived from Presidential authorisation and his powers are set out in the Constitution

  • Presidential System can often lead to an ineffective executive – legislature can be dominated by the opposing party

  • When a President does not command a majority in the Legislature he finds it very difficult to carry out the programme he was elected upon

  • The President is both the Head of State and Head of Government.

  • Executive is formed from the majority party in Parliament

  • They are accountable to Parliament – Ministers answerable to Parliament for what happens in their department and can be brought down by parliament (in a vote of no confidence)

  • Ministerial powers are derived from parliamentary authorisation

  • Parliamentary systems tend to be very effective for carrying out executive policy as there is no separation of powers

  • This means the government gains its position from the fact that it can command a majority in the Legislature

  • The Prime Minister is the Head of Government.

Overall, although the personality of a Prime Minister might be presidential (we will discuss this in more detail later), his powers and roles are defined by the Parliamentary System.

Sources of Prime Ministerial Authority

The Crown

The Party


The Electorate

Prime Minister is technically appointed by the Monarch and therefore carries her authority (royal prerogative). In practice, appointment by the Queen is just a formality as there is usually a majority party with an undisputed leader

Usually the Prime Minister if the leader of the majority party in the HOC (except with coalitions such as the newly formed Con-Lib coalition)

The PM must maintain the support of their party to remain the PM – Margaret Thatcher was removed as leader by her own party – failed to support her when challenged by Michael Heseltine.

Under the coalitions the PM needs the support of both parties/

Needs the support of the majority of the HOC. It is backbench MPs who can bring down a government in a Vote of No confidence (e.g. James Callaghan in 1979), forcing the PM to dissolve Parliament

Voters have been shown in recent years to be increasingly influenced by the standing of party leaders therefore the winning party can claim the authority of the people. People vote on image of party leaders rather than policy which puts PM in a powerful position over other MPs and ministers – their position in government is dependent on the party leader

On the next page you will find this section summed up.

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