Exploring (and explaining) the British Prime Minister

Heffernan, Richard (2005). Exploring (and explaining) the British Prime Minister. British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 7(4) pp. 605–620.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-856X.2005.00203.x


Institutions cannot be understood without exploring the actors who occupy them, while actors cannot be understood without examining the institutions they inhabit. Ultimately, the actions of both institutions and actors cannot be understood separate to the political, social and economic context within which they are located. Tony Blair, rightly cited as an example of a powerful prime minister, does not have a monopoly of power, but he does have an extensive authority. The prime minister requires two things to operate effectively within Whitehall and Westminster: first, power over their parliamentary majority; and second, power within the government they lead. Because this power is contested and challenged, the age-old question, the actual degree of collegiality within government, is as central to contemporary debates about the working of the core executive as to the ancient debate about prime ministerial versus cabinet government. The prime minister is therefore best modelled as a strong, but sometimes weak, parliamentary chief executive.

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