Cameron as Prime Minister: the intra-executive politics of Britain's coalition government

Bennister, Mark and Heffernan, Richard (2012). Cameron as Prime Minister: the intra-executive politics of Britain's coalition government. Parliamentary Affairs, 65(4) pp. 778–801.



Forming a coalition involves compromise, so a prime minister heading up a coalition government, even one as predominant a party leader as David Cameron, should not be as powerful as a prime minister leading a single-party government. Cameron has still to work with and through ministers from his own party, but has also to work with and through Liberal Democrat ministers; not least the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. The relationship between the prime minister and his deputy is unchartered territory for recent academic study of the British prime minister. This article explores how Cameron and Clegg operate within both Whitehall and Westminster: the cabinet arrangements, the prime minister’s patronage, advisory resources and more informal mechanisms. Cameron and Clegg both possess institutional and personal resources, but Cameron remains the predominant resource-rich actor, so at this stage in the coalition government we can observe that no formal, substantial change in the role of prime minister has been enacted. Cameron’s predominance, by leading a coalition, is partially constrained by Clegg, but he too constrains Clegg. This prime minister, then, can be predominant even when he is constrained in significant ways by the imperatives of coalition government. Cameron is presently no more constrained than a prime minister who is faced with a pre-eminent intra-party rival with a significant power base.

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