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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.


Cover Rethinking Political Thinkers

9. Jean-Jacques Rousseau  

Peter Hallward

This chapter evaluates some of the central tensions that characterize Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s egalitarian account of sovereignty. He formulates this account as the basis for a participatory ‘social contract’, meaning a voluntary form of association that aims to be both general enough to include the people as a whole, yet concentrated enough to command their government and to over-power the divisive influence of a wealthy elite. As he argued in his main political works, if it is sufficiently forceful, such a collective will can counteract the forms of inequality and servitude that have accompanied the historical rise of propertied and exploitative classes. Rousseau’s radical conception of mass power would soon inspire the most uncompromising sequences of the French Revolution. However, its emancipatory promise was also limited by its author’s sexism, his anachronism, and his failure to engage with some emerging forms of inequality and power, notably those associated with the rise of commerce, capitalism, and the transatlantic slave trade.