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Archive for the ‘Prime ministerial power’ Category

Is the UK a liberal democracy?

Posted by Matt Walker on September 26, 2011

In many respects it seems obvious to conclude ‘yes’ to this question, that the UK is a liberal democracy.  The UK enjoys free and fair elections, experiences smooth transitions of power from one government to the next, and is generally a tolerant society whose politics has been opened up by the Freedom of Information Act.

However, there are some major criticisms which we can level, and these stem from the fact that the UK constitution does not successfully limit governmental power,  nor does it entrench our human rights. On the latter point, any British government could in theory alter our key human rights by simply passing a Bill through Parliament. In most liberal democracies, it would require a lengthy challenge to a constitution, making it harder to make any such changes to citizens’ rights.

With regards to the UK’s failure to limit government power, a good example (see video link below) is the decision by the Labour Government to go to war with Iraq in 2003. As evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry indicates, Tony Blair made this decision himself, largely side-lining Cabinet and Parliament in the process. This particular issue demonstrates that in the right circumstances, the UK Prime Minister is very powerful.

Any assessment of the success or otherwise of liberal democracy in Britain cannot ignore this point, and in any essay you write making such an assessment will require you to tackle this issue.

Click here for video link.

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When a prime minister speaks out

Posted by Matt Walker on August 26, 2009

EdwardKennedy I commented a couple of days ago about Gordon Brown’s reluctance to comment on the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Ali al-Megrahi. I suggested that Brown was expected to comment on this important issue, as one function of the prime minister is to act as the official spokesman of the government.

The prime minister is also expected to represent the national view,  speaking for the nation as a whole. Brown was quick off the mark today to pay tribute to Senator Edward Kennedy (brother of JFK) who has just died. The Conservative Party have also paid tribute, but the BBC headline reads, “Brown pays tribute to Ted Kennedy”.

It is the prime minister’s voice that people expect to hear in such circumstances.

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When should a prime minister speak out?

Posted by Matt Walker on August 24, 2009

GordonBrown The release by the devolved Scottish government of the Lockerbie bomber, Ali al-Megrahi has created an international storm, according to Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. The Scottish Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill,  faces a grilling in the Scottish Parliament today, amidst heavy criticism in both the USA and UK over his decision to release the convicted terrorist on ‘compassionate’ grounds.

One person who has yet to say anything about the matter is Gordon Brown.  His official spokesman said today that the PM would not comment as this was a matter for the Scottish government. Clegg argues this is absurd.

A crucial function of the prime minister is to act as the official spokesman of the government, asserting its view on a range of issues from the economy and health, to defence and foreign affairs. When the matter is serious enough, people and press expect the prime minister to offer his view. In a matter like this, it may not be enough for the government view to be expressed by the foreign secretary alone.

It does seem strange that Brown has remained silent over the release of al-Megrahi. He has faced criticism in the past that he lacks confidence when not talking about his much-favoured area of the economy. His response to the death of ‘Baby P’, for example, arguably lacked the emotional tone that was required. He also seemed to struggle when the MPs expenses scandal broke, treading water in the wake of David Cameron’s speedboat of a response. Brown is less comfortable in these situations than either Blair or Cameron.

Perhaps there are other reasons for Brown’s reticence. Whatever the cause, he will have to comment on this at some point, and not for the first time will look like he is at the mercy of events rather than their master. Read the BBC article here.

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With friends like these

Posted by Matt Walker on July 13, 2009

gordon-brownThe summer holidays will soon be upon us, and no doubt both students and teachers need a break. But so too does our prime minister – apparently. Labour MP Austin Mitchell, has described Brown as “knackered”, and runs the risk of making bad decisions unless he takes a break. Still, that’s nothing. Another Labour MP, Patricia Hewitt has criticised the “laddish” culture at Number 10, and hence Gordon Brown’s running of it. Oh dear, with friends like these who needs enemies?

Hopefully, from his point of view, Brown will have a good summer. He’ll certainly need it given that we are less than 12 months away from a general election, one that he is widely expected to lose. But how many more Labour MPs will chip away at their leader in the meantime?

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Passing the parcel with poverty?

Posted by Matt Walker on June 12, 2009

Do Labour now accept that they are going to lose the next general election? Yvette Cooper, the new Work and Pensions Secretary has announced that the government intend to pass into law central government’s commitment to eradicate child poverty.

As we know, parliament cannot bind the hands of a future parliament, making commitments on its behalf that cannot be reversed. And yet, this looks like an attempt to at least box a future parliament into a political corner.

Is this merely a trap for a future Conservative Government? A Cameron administration would have to either support the current government’s commitment on child poverty, or actively and very publicly reject it, rather than secretly burying bad news on a heavy news day. The Conservative opposition could of course argue against this proposal, but would arguably look bad if they did so. Is this an example Gordon’s Brown’s oft-talked about strategic brilliance, after weeks and months of political errors?

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The limits of prime ministerial power

Posted by Matt Walker on June 8, 2009

image These are torrid and fascinating times to start writing a politics blog. It is also a dangerous and risky time for those who wish to predict the outcome of current events. It is tempting to predict one way or another whether Gordon Brown will survive, and take a fifty-fifty risk on the future of this blog. But that would be foolish. Events have moved so quickly during the past week, not least because of so many Cabinet resignations, and two election thumpings for Labour.

Tonight the Parliamentary party will meet to discuss what should be done about Gordon Brown’s leadership. If there are sufficient rebels (70 is the number being widely touted), then this could force a prolonged leadership challenge, unless Brown decides to step down. If Brown can see off this challenge, he will seem much more secure then he did only a few days ago, having already seen off his Cabinet challengers. For now.

On the AS course, students will be familiar with the question of prime ministerial power and whether prime ministers are more like presidents these days. Perhaps the current political crisis should act as a warning that prime ministers are not all powerful in all circumstances. Prime ministerial power has its restraints, as even Thatcher and Blair discovered to their cost.

As former prime minister, Harold Macmillan once put it, “events dear boy, events”, and it is events which have really undermined Brown, both politically and economically. And unfortunately for Brown, he seems to lack the necessary charisma and public support to be able take events by the scruff of the neck.

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