The Exam Specification asks for:
A knowledge of the distribution of power
within the UK executive. A knowledge of
the factors that influence the relationship
between the prime minister and the
cabinet. A knowledge of the relationship
between ministers and civil servants and
of their accountability to Parliament and
What powers does the Prime Minister
How does he run his cabinet?
What limits the power of the Prime
What is the role of ministers/civil
How accountable is the Prime Minister,
and his ministers and civil servants, to
You need to understand the basic
concepts and traditional role of the
Executive and its various members…
You should have a thorough and up to
date understanding of the Blair
You should be able to draw selectively
upon the recent past examples of
John Major and Margaret Thatcher.
You need to understand:
Prime Ministerial Government
The theory that the cabinet forms a
collective political executive in British
government and thus constrains the
power of the Prime Minister.
In Cabinet Government the principle of
collective responsibility means the
cabinet either makes, or is consulted
about, important political decisions.
Prime Ministerial Government
The theory that the office of the Prime
Minister is now so powerful that it
forms the political executive, that
effectively makes the decisions.
In practice, this is characterised by the
dominance of the Prime Minister; the
existence of an unelected ‘inner
cabinet’ of advisers; a lack of cabinet
meetings and the relative
unimportance of cabinet ministers.
The extent to which the government
must answer for its actions to the
people, via the elective body of the
House of Commons.
Individual Ministerial Responsibility is the
doctrine which assumes that ministers are
fully responsible, to Parliament, for the
actions of their departments.
The doctrine assumes that ministers will
resign over failures in policy or practice
(e.g. Lord Carrington, Falklands). In
practice, the doctrine has been undermined
by refusals to resign, and the belief that
policy and practice are separate (Howard as
The doctrine of Individual
Responsibility has been rarely
exercised in recent years. Most
ministers seek to hold on to office
despite errors in their departments
(Stephen Byers, Charles Clarke, John
Reid). Most resignations occur
because of personal behaviour
(Mandelson, twice; Blunkett). Estelle
Morris (Education) was an exception,
resigning because she was not up to
the job (her own admission).
Collective Responsibility assumes that
minsters will support government
decisions, even if they privately
oppose them. Ministers must resign
if they do not feel able to publicly
endorse such decisions (e.g. Robin
Cook and others over the Iraq war)
Refers to the lack of party bias in
political actions and decision making.
Can refer to independence (i.e. non-
party) on the part of MPs or bodies,
or cross-party work.
Government keeps no secrets, and
conducts its affairs in the full glare of
Describes the British political system
as one in which, once elected, the
leadership of the majority party in
the House of Commons can do more
or less what it wants without
constitutional checks and balances,
until it faces the electorate at the
next general election. Coined
originally by Tory Lord Hailsham.
This session has not covered a full
assessment of the Blair premiership
The role of the civil service needs further
Its increasing politicisation;
The contracting out of a number of its
functions (Next Step Agencies);
Increasing public profile reducing
anonymity of senior civil servants.