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Chapter

Cover Comparative European Politics

7. The Executive Branch  

Petra Schleiter

This chapter offers a clear introduction to the history, constitutional structure, and powers of the modern executive in European countries. It provides an overview of the constitutional position of the political executive in parliamentary and semi-presidential democracies, then charts variations in the powers of key actors (including prime ministers, cabinets, and presidents) and their political implications for conflict within government, cabinet stability, and policy processes. The text complements its coverage of the political executive with an analysis of the civil service and the political challenges of controlling it, and concludes with a comprehensive assessment of the rise in executive autonomy and its political implications in the twenty-first century.

Book

Cover UK Politics

Andrew Blick

UK Politics gives an introduction to this subject, providing the foundational understanding, critical perspectives, and historical knowledge needed to make sense of politics in the UK today. Part I looks at the way people are governed in the UK. This includes an analysis of the Cabinet and the Prime Minster, parliament, and the UK and human rights. Part 2 looks at how people participate in politics through examining the party system, elections, and voting. It also considers the issue of referendums. The third part is about how society affects UK politics. This part of the text examines communication and public opinion and considers identity, equality, and power. The final part is about the UK relates to the rest of the world. The key concepts here are devolution, local government, the nations and the union, and the outside world.

Chapter

Cover UK Politics

2. The Cabinet and the prime minister  

This chapter examines two closely connected institutions that lie at the epicentre of UK politics and these are the Cabinet and the Prime Minister (PM). The chapter considers the basic characteristics of both. It describes the way in which they operate, including policy, the functions of the Prime Ministerial role, the supporting staff, and the place of both in the UK constitution and system of government. The principle of the collective responsibility of ministers is touched upon. The chapter gives some practical examples of how selective PMs have worked with their Cabinets to demonstrate how these theories can play out in practical terms. The chapter also provides historical material to illuminate the background to the issues it considers. Finally, the chapter asks: is collective government, that is, government by a group rather than a single leader, the right approach for the UK today? The chapter also touches on the issue of Brexit and questions what we have learnt from the Brexit experience in terms of the UK political system.

Chapter

Cover Exploring Parliament

17. Questioning the Government  

Stephen Bates, Peter Kerr, and Ruxandra Serban

This chapter examines how accountability is carried out in the UK Parliament through various questioning procedures which enable ministers and the government to explain and defend their decisions. Questioning the government provides an important means for Members of Parliament (MPs) and peers to hold the government, the prime minister, ministers, and departments to account. There are two main types of parliamentary questions: oral questions and written questions. Oral questions are both asked and answered on the Floor of the House of Commons or the House of Lords, whereas written questions are ‘often used to obtain detailed information about policies and statistics on the activities of government departments’. The chapter first explains these two types of parliamentary questions before discussing their purposes. It also considers debates over the issue of reforming parliamentary questions, and more specifcally Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs).

Chapter

Cover British Politics

2. Leadership from the Top  

This chapter examines the general issue of leadership in the British political system and the stresses and strains of this task, examining the role of the prime minister. As well as being leader of the largest party in the House of Commons, able to command a majority, and potentially able to get government business through Parliament and into law, the prime minister has executive powers, which helps keep this focus. Despite the power of the position and its importance in the British system of government, there are fundamental weaknesses in the role that come from the instabilities of party politics. Overall, the picture of prime ministerial and core executive power and capacity is a mixed one that is changeable over time. In recent years, over Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, the prime minister's fate can change dramatically, even week-by-week.