What Are The Constraints On The Powers Of The British Prime Minister?


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Mark Henderson Profile
Mark Henderson answered
The constraints on the powers of the British Prime Minister are as follows:

The Cabinet: The Prime Minister has the power to appoint or dismiss any member of the Cabinet. Usually the PM will award Cabinet positions to his allies, talented individuals and powerful party members. (Appointing the latter may be necessary to appease the different ideological sects of the government.)

The Party: The party's support for the PM is by no means unconditional, and members will expect some sort of return for their loyalty. Again, as with the Cabinet, the PM may find himself compromising on some aspects of legislation in order to appease his colleagues. The party can even go as far as removing a Prime Minister from office, as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher found out to her cost in 1990.

The Electorate: The electorate places the same constraints upon the PM as do the Cabinet and Party. If the electorate does not take kindly to the PM's policies or decisions, then they can choose not to re-elect the government in the next general election.

The Media: The media plays an important role in scrutinizing and questioning decisions taken by the PM and the government. Also, the majority of the electorate obtain their political information from the media which gives journalists a significant role in shaping the electorate's opinions on the PM and the government.
Will Short Profile
Will Short answered
One of the main constraints to a Prime minister is the cabinet and who is appointed to it:
Firstly, senior party members have claim to senior posts (not giving them such posts could cause rifts and thus damage the party). Also within a cabinet the PM must strike a good ideological balance or face alienating the right or left wings of that particular party, again this could cause the party harm. If a reshuffle is botched (or doesn’t happen in the case of Gordon Brown) then inter party rivals can be created. The main problem with who is in cabinet is the talent available to a Prime minister, if there are few talented members of the party in government then more talent people will get the bigger jobs, however they may not share the prime ministers way of thinking and so could make life very tricky for him.
Also the way he deals with cabinet can constrain a PM. If senior members of cabinet feel ignored problems can arise from this, either an embarrassing resignation or public rows can break out from cabinet, both of which damage a government and a Prime minister. Senior ministers with a decent amount of backing may also feel confident enough to challenge the policy making ideas of the prime minister, and if these ideas are more popular than those of the PM it can seriously undermine him.
While being PM and running the country, there is also a responsibility to lead the party (as this is also their role). Unfortunately for the people to have held the role, support from the party is not unconditional for a prime minister and so they can be kicked out of office by the party (as Mrs Thatcher was) this constrains the prime minister as they are less likely to go through with policy that their party will not be happy with.
The electorate are also a constraint on the Prime minister. As – put simply – if he doesn’t please them his party will not win the next election (usually). This means while some prime ministers may want to carry out some radical policies they would never dare to as it would lead to a massive dip in support for them and would result in them getting booted out of power.
The rise in the media and social networking has added a new dimension to the job of prime minister. Instead of just being able to keep the party in check and come up with innovative and good policies they now need to also have a good media image, some would say this constrains the prime minister as it can distract them from their policy making. Also the media makes it easier for ‘point scoring’ to occur and opposition parties can stand against a policy that may be very good but unpopular simply to win votes and not on merit, this can make the PM’s job a lot harder.
When Harold Macmillan was asked what was most likely to blow a government off course, he replied by saying: ‘events dear boy, events.’ This nicely sums up my next point, whatever a government and mainly a prime minister may want to do and achieve in office it is very unlikely that he/she will achieve all of these aims, purely because they must deal with events and what is happening in the present. Events constrain a PM, such as a recession, which forces spending cuts and lowering the budget. This must frustrate the leader of the country as no matter what they might wish to accomplish things happening in the country at the time must be dealt with, thus blowing the government off course.
The Monarch and Parliament can also be a constraint, the fact that the prime minister must go before the queen and kneel each week undermines him slightly (although it is a lovely tradition). The money the state also spends on the monarch some argue could be better spent on other things and without the monarch there would certainly be more money for different policies – so this can possibly be viewed as a constraint – also parliament’s votes and scrutiny of government policy stop the PM just doing as he wishes. If a prime minister wants to get bills through parliament he may sometimes need to amend them to satisfy the Commons or the Lords, or both, thus preventing him from getting the policy he truly wanted passed.

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