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Do we have prime ministerial or cabinet government? The case of Boris Johnson

Mike McCartney

23rd September 2020

The power a PM can wield, or the capacity to act in a presidential manner, is one which fluctuates. This ebb and flow is visible not only between premiers but within premierships.

George Jones has compared the PM’s power to an elastic band, which stretches depending on personality and circumstances. We can roughly apply it as follows. Thatcher was blessed with large parliamentary majorities in 1983 and 1987 and was credited with improving economic performance. Allied to this, she was a woman with charisma. She was followed by Major in 1990, a PM at the other end of the spectrum in each regard. Thatcher was thus more powerful than Major. This pattern of circumstances can be equally well applied to Blair and Brown.

But during a PM's time in office their personal authority can wax and wane. So in the context of the matrix above, Mrs Thatcher was much more dominant after the Falklands, Major was severely weakened by the ERM crisis, we have two Blair eras, with one before Iraq, and one after, and Brown was blown off course by the financial criss. In other words, the power of a Prime Minister varies not just between premierships, but within premierships.

Have a look at this article rom The Guardian about Boris Johnson. How do we place his premiership so far within the context of this model?

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/sep/18/sinking-without-trace-rightwing-press-turns-on-boris-johnson-coronavirus

In case you think there is perhaps an element of left wing bias in that report, there is more background on the turbulence Mr Johnson is experiencing here from The Times (if you have access past the paywall): https://www.thetimes.co.uk/art...

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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