Why the Prime Minister Cannot be President: Comparing Institutional Imperative in Britain and America

Parliamentary Affairs (Impact Factor: 0.64). 01/2005; 58(1). DOI: 10.1093/pa/gsi006
Source: OAI


The notion of presidentialisation, applied to the British Prime Minister, usually focuses more on the personal style of the of the officeholder, less on the institutional substance of the office itself. The Prime Minister is the product of the British parliamentary system, and this system—and the institutional structures it imposes—provides for and circumscribes his or her powers. Comparing Britain with the US demonstrates that in executive-legislative terms a British Prime Minister is more commanding than any US President, while in intra-executive terms the President is more powerful. The presidentialisation notion fails to acknowledge that its legislative purchase makes the British parliamentary executive more authoritative than its US presidential counterpart. Should, as is often but not always the case, a Prime Minister be able to lead his or her executive, determine its key decisions, shape its agenda and guide the work of its ministers, he or she will be a more influential actor than the President. Systemic differences distinguish Prime Ministers from Presidents. Britain does not have a presidential system, so it cannot have a presidential chief executive.

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    • "Similar claims, though not always so stridently put, have been made for other parliamentary systems (see, for example, Lutjen and Walter, 2000; Poguntke and Webb, 2005a,b; Bennister, 2007). In fact, the thesis has had more critics than supporters both for the UK (Hart, 1991; Norton, 2003; Heffernan, 2005; Jones, 2006; Rhodes, 2007) and for other systems (Hart, 1992; Fabbrini, 1994; Helms, 2005). I would like to finally put an end to the presidentialisation argument by pointing out that (i) the forces that have been identified as presidentialisation are better seen as personalisation of politics, decreasing emphasis on parties; (ii) the personalisation of politics applies equally to presidential systems; (iii) centralisation in the executive takes us further away from presidentialism and (iv) to the extent these forces increase the power of the prime minister, they cause further divergence from presidentialism (since prime ministers have always been more powerful than presidents). "
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    ABSTRACT: The presidentialisation of the prime minister thesis should be expunged from political science vocabulary. To the extent that the forces identified by those who pursue the thesis exist, they do not make the British prime minister more like the US president. Quite the reverse: they enhance the different and already stronger powers of the prime minister. The prime minister's offices serve a different function from that of the White House. The roles of the prime minister and the president as leaders of their parties are entirely different. The personalisation of politics is an analytically separate process, and affects parliamentary and presidential systems alike. Media representation of prime ministers as ‘presidential’ is entirely superficial; political science needs to plunge deeper into the institutional forces of presidential and prime ministerial power. The institutions of presidential and parliamentary systems are so different that any global force acting upon them are as likely to drive them further apart as lead them to converge. Prime ministers are more powerful within their systems than presidents; strengthening their powers makes them less, not more, like presidents.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2012 · Parliamentary Affairs

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