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‘The power of the Prime Minister has been enhanced by the growing importance of international politics.’ Discuss. (2005)

As the most important member and leader of the government the power of the Prime Minister is not merely due to his role in conducting international policy. But it can be argued that the power of a PM will increase during international crises, if that PM is seen to be in control of events. Thatcher prior to the Falklands War was relatively unpopular as the UK suffered from recession. Yet after the military success of the 1982 conflict she was able to take almost unrivalled control of her cabinet and of policy. However, the Suez crisis proved disastrous for Eden, international politics will not always enhance the power of the PM. Iraq has clearly reduced Blair's power, as he has lost the support of many of his backbenchers and labour activists. Ultimately, international politics increases the visibility of a PM, it ensures that history books will dedicate more print to a PM that is active on the international stage, and many PM s enjoy the prestige of international summits, but a PM's power is dependent on his/her popularity at home. During difficult times domestically, foreign politics can prove an enjoyable distraction, and success in international politics can partially make up for disappointments at home, but a PM's power is still based on their personal popularity, their rivals' popularity, the size of their parliamentary majority and the latest opinion polls.
Knowledge of the increasing importance of international summits.
Analysis of the impact of globalisation on the power of national governments.
Evaluation of the ways in which this greater prominence of international politics increases or decreases the powers of the PM.
Levels 1, 2 and 3 – no comments. (Mark Scheme).

This question proved to be a good discriminator, as some students were able to take advantage of a question which was very similar to a question from the 2004 paper. Weaker answers claimed that prime ministerial powers were enhanced by international politics, assuming that power and prominence were interchangeable. Thus many answers described how the PM had become more prominent because of the growing importance of international politics, but were less successful at analysing the extent to which this added to PM power. Similarly, few candidates discussed the extent to which international politics were becoming more important. Level 3 answers were able to analyse the extent to which the power of the PM had been enhanced. They tended to argue that this depended on the perceived success or failure of the PM’s foreign policy. Thus Thatcher was more powerful after the Falklands conflict, but Blair is clearly less powerful following the 2003 Iraq war. Disappointingly, few candidates made the link between Iraq and declining support for the Blair government, and the loss of Labour seats in Westminster following the 2005 election. (Examiners' Report).

Related question:
‘The UK’s increased involvement in international politics has contributed to a shift in power from the legislature to the executive.’ Discuss. (2004)

An increase in the power of the executive has occurred over many years. It is not recent. The shifting of power from the legislature to the executive has occurred for a variety of reasons – though international conflict has increased the power of the PM (note Thatcher and the Falklands War, also Major and the [first] Gulf War). However with Blair, the UK's involvement in Iraq has weakened him – despite his large majority. The power of the executive is not a recent phenomenon. The PM and Cabinet have dominated the legislature since the 1850's. More important is the personal popularity and therefore the authority of the PM. Membership of the EU has increased the power of the EU as ministers and the PM need to attend.

Levels 1, 2 and 3 – no comment. (Mark Scheme).

Again few candidates attempted this question. Of those who did, quite a few wrote an AS essay on the growth of Prime Ministerial power. The focus on foreign affairs in the media, was identified as giving the PM prominence, few even considered the fact that foreign affairs is conducted through prerogative powers, hence exclusively executive by convention, though the ones that did wrote well about the need to increase the powers of the Commons over these areas. (Examiners' Report).

Basic plan: Yes: Since 1998 TB and later G Brown have been foreign policy PMs This has also seen them exclude others from decision making. Therefore power has shifted away from Parliament (the legislature) and even Cabinet (the executive) to the PM.
No: Domestic factors and party structure have been the reason behind the shift. In addition, both Blair and Brown reacted to the weak / compromising leadership style of Major as they see it a major reason why the Tories lost power and why Labour did so poorly in the 1980’s.

No - ‘Growing Importance’ Actually past PMs have been more powerful in times of international tension. (i.e. Lloyd George 1916 – 1922, Chamberlain 1937 – 40)

At such times the PM’s power is enhanced as his public image. He appears to be making bigger decisions, when in fact he is making decisions easier for the public to understand and gauge. Also these are ‘leadership’ moments. The media coverage will lead with these stories and personalise them as 'the PM speaks for Britain' etc. Much of day to day politics doesn’t look like this.

No - PMs Personality.
Blair was dominator who was careful to keep his cabinet from being able to hold collective meetings. Policy was either vague at cabinet meetings or already settled upon. TB prefered to use small committees and 1 to 1 meetings tio decide policy. This was the factor more than any other under TB.

G Brown has a relatively inexperienced Cabinet thatr is loyal more to him and also unpopular in the polls, so they will tend to follow his lead. They are already learning what in-fighting is costing them.

No – Domestic factors

Domestic issues usually decide elections and the size of the govt majority. A weak govt. isn’t going to find life easier with a good foreign policy. PMs find it difficult to leave the UK at such times when every vote counts in HoC. This was very true for Major and Callaghan. UK domestic politics in the 1980s and 1990s gave rise to the leadership styles of TB and GB. The large majority in the HoC allowed Tb to be as powerful as thatcher – not foreign policy.
In the 2005 election, Iraq was a factor that lost Labour votes but the Tories and the Lib Dems didn’t gain substantially from it. Other domestic factors – and not just for Labour played a role, including the weirdness of FPTP.

No – Party Structure – especially New Labour.

Party unity, discipline, being ‘on message’ tight media control and selling ‘success’ all play an important part in enhancing the PMs power. The PM being the focus of media attention adds to this.

A major portion of UK politics is now tied up with foreign policy. EU, NATO, UN, WTO North/South issues, Globalisation, even the environment all demand attention. Most of these issues require more than one ministry and are usually multinational too. When dealing with other heads of govt, the PM has to step in. Only the PM can co-ordinate such efforts. Only he can take major decisions quickly. In addition, in this type of situation, the PM embodies the UK. He is its voice. (Thatcher acted this way too). The PM has more power and influence over the EU than its 72 MEPs. The personal views of the PM have a large bearing on FP too (ie TB’s religious views). PM’s often make their own FP (Chamberlain) or seek it as an escape from domestic politics. This is especially true of relations with the EU and the US. TB favoured more engagement with the EU, Brown might be cool on the Euro, but he too is more pro-EU than many in his party. Even so, his approach is not the same as TB. This is not a feature unique to the UK either. Notice how France’s foreign policy has changed under Sarkozy rather than Chirac. Also, how many people hope for a better US FP after Bush leaves office?

YES – W.O.T. and 9/11.
These events have massively increased the importance of foreign policy. The UK was already a great power, so it can hardly avoid the issues. The london bombings on 7/7 demonstrated this. Again only the PM can co-ordinate security policy and forces. Only he can determine how much will be military and how much police. Public debate and feelings demand a clear policy. TB’s ability to go to with Iraq without Parliament’s approval (if he had wanted to do so) highlighted how much power the PM has thanks to royal Prerogatives (unlike the US President who is bound by the War Powers Act). This has led to demands for a similar law in the UK particularly by Clare Short and others.