Blair – The PM’s Powers – And the Royal Prerogative
Comment at end
As a point of information – NO – Tony Blair did NOT use the Royal Prerogative to send the troops into Iraq. He didn’t need to. Although there were Labour members who voted against, and the Liberal Democrats (of course! … they’ve never had the responsibility of defending the country for almost a century), he won the vote with the support of the Conservative party.
So, with the backing of Brown and the Conservatives, neither of today’s rivals for the top job would have done any differently if the hard argument had been theirs to make and take. Blair made the argument, they voted, he won, and now it’s HIS CATASTROPHE.
If it had been a glorious three-week expedition, would it then have been BLAIR’S GLORY?
Oh, just remembered: it WAS a 30-day expedition. The ensuing years have been under the UN, as a peace-keeping force.
So, remember that when they brand Blair a war-monger. We and thirty other nations are trying against a determined conglomerate of insurgent groups who murder their own without compunction.
THE ROYAL PREROGATIVE
While prerogative powers were originally exercised by the monarch acting alone, and do not require parliamentary consent, they are now always exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister or the Cabinet, who is then accountable for the decision to Parliament. There may be situations in which the monarch could choose to exercise the Royal Prerogative without the advice of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. Such situations are extremely rare, and could only occur in emergencies. In most liberal-democratic constitutional monarchies, such actions would precipitate a constitutional crisis.
Mr Blair has taken a lot of grief over many things, chief amongst them being his “sofa style” of government.
In fact he is actually very much part of cabinet decision-making and is happy being so. The fact that he often gets his own way is more done to his acclaimed powers of persuasion and the trust that his cabinets have put in him, partly I imagine, because he comes informed due to the sofa chats.
It’s interesting to understand the powers that a British Prime Minister actually HAS in our unwritten constitution, and to judge how much of this power Mr Blair has understood and/or used to his advantage.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is, in practice, the political leader of the United Kingdom. He or she acts as the head of Her Majesty’s Government and like other Prime Ministers in Westminster Systems is (along with his or her Cabinet) the de facto wielder of executive powers in the British Government, exercising many of the executive functions nominally vested in the Sovereign, often summed-up under the label of “royal prerogative“.
According to custom, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet (which he or she heads) are accountable for their actions to Parliament, of which in modern days they are likewise by convention members. The current Prime Minister is Tony Blair (of the Labour Party), who has been in office since 2 May 1997.
Historically, the monarch’s chief minister (if, as was not always the case, any one person could be singled out as such) might have held any of a number of offices: Lord Chancellor, Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord High Steward, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Privy Seal, or Secretary of State among others. With the emergence, in the 18th century, of government by a cabinet of these ministers, its head came in time to be called the “Prime Minister” (sometimes also “Premier” or “First Minister”). To this day the Prime Minister always also holds one or more of the more specific ministerial positions (since 1905 it has always been that of First Lord of the Treasury).
Sir Robert Walpole is generally regarded as the first Prime Minister in the modern sense; although adoption of the phrase “Prime Minister” in any formal or official sense did not come until many years later (indeed, at Walpoles time it would have been seen as an insult).
(Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman is often considered the first to officially bear the label; see “The office” below.)
The Prime Minister is appointed by the Sovereign, who is bound by constitutional convention to choose the individual most likely to command the support of the House of Commons (normally, the leader of the party with a majority in that body). Should the Prime Minister lose the confidence of the House of Commons (indicated, for example, by the passage of a no confidence motion), he or she is morally obliged by similar conventions either to resign (in which case the Sovereign can try to find another Prime Minister who has the House’s confidence) or to request the monarch to call a general election.
Since the premiership is in some small sense still a de facto position, the office’s powers are mainly a matter of custom rather than law, deriving from the incumbent’s ability to appoint (through the Sovereign) his or her Cabinet colleagues, as well as from certain uses of the royal prerogative which may be exercised directly by the Prime Minister, or by the Monarch on the Prime Minister’s advice.
Some commentators have pointed out that, in practice, the powers of the office are subject to very few checks, especially in an era when Parliament and the Cabinet are seen as unwilling to challenge dominant Prime Ministers as they are bound by a policy of collective cabinet responsibility.
So, did YOU know that Mr Blair’s other title is First Lord of the Treasury? Strange tradition. Is the Chancellor’s other title “Prime Minister”?