Presidentialism in the UK: Be afraid, be very afraid.

The Prime Minister is not my head of state – the monarch is. I know this, you know this, the Prime Minister knows this. However, it seems that big Dave, and indeed other Prime Ministers of late seem to have conveniently forgotten this fact. He needs reminding. 
By Henry Davies
Spot the difference: President Prime Minister Cameron, with a real-life, actual President, Barack Obama. (Photo: The Telegraph)
Since the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, there has been an alarming trend of presidentialism within the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister used to be primus inter pares (first among equals) but now, the office has become something more befitting of a president, with the feeling and representation of our Prime Minister as the head of state rather than the head of government.
In this country, the head of state is the monarch, but in most other countries, the role is usually held by a president who has close to absolute power over a nation, as they are often directly elected. The head of government is rarely elected and is merely the spokesperson/chairperson of the government (our Prime Minister).
Presidentialism is born, when there is a disturbing increase in the power of the Prime Minister, an indirectly elected official. Her Majesty’s Government is becoming a powerhouse for the PM, and essentially an “elected dictatorship”. We are seeing a narrowing of the parameters of Cabinet Government, where the Cabinet makes collective decisions, and a rise in the power of Blair’s “sofa politics”, and “kitchen cabinet.”

Sofa Politics
PM vs President: another spot the difference
(this one’s quite hard actually).
(Photo: The Guardian)
This was Blair’s informal style of leadership, where he’d hold one-on-one sessions with members of the cabinet, at Number 10, sat on a sofa with a cup of tea. There, they’d take part in some “blue sky thinking”, getting on board and confirming that they were on the same page, all whilst thinking outside the box.
This brand of leadership achieved two things; first, it gave Blair face time with each individual Cabinet member, making them feel included. Second, it allowed him to push through his policy ideas without the need for that bothersome concept that is democracy. This is very similar to the concept of James Callaghan’s “kitchen cabinet”, where the PM relies on a cabal of senior advisors and ministers to formulate policy. The power of this country’s executive branch has transformed into a Prime Minister-centric body with the Cabinet becoming merely a rubber stamp.
The Media & Us
Representation is also a major factor. In recent years the PM has been portrayed in the media as the embodiment of the country. This is absolutely not the case. He is merely the embodiment of our Government. If you’re looking for someone to embody the people, you need to look to Buckingham Palace. That being said, it could be argued that neither truly represents the British public, but that is a matter for another article.
A key example of presidentialism was the flooding last year. We saw David Cameron flying hither and thither, helping the hard-working people he cares so dearly about. He even cancelled his diplomatic trip to the Middle East. There are a few of things that riled me about that whole scenario. One of them being, the PM has little to no power to help these people alone, other than tossing a few sandbags, but the media jumped on him as the man with the solution. The PM does not have the ability to manage crises, or issue executive orders. The office of Prime Minister can only offer the Government’s support, which is not guaranteed, as was demonstrated by the vote against military action in Syria in 2013.
This country is presidentialising itself. Or rather, the media and politicians are doing it for us. Perhaps it’s because people in other countries, and even people of our own nation, cannot determine the difference between a head of state and a head of government, or perhaps it’s because they just don’t care.
That may be the case, but it does not excuse the disturbing trend, in fact, it makes it much, much worse. It is this blind apathy that can lead to awful situations, where the Government assumes it can “take liberties” if you’ll pardon the pun. It is happening, right here, right now, to a slightly lesser extent, with the increase in Government surveillance. Whilst the public stand idly by, only expressing concern on certain issues, such as immigration and security, the Government has a perfect solution to these problems. That solution involves the erosion of our civil liberties and with the office of the Prime Minister becoming ever more powerful, we may find that the removal of freedom becomes just another weapon in the PM’s arsenal. This is why Presidentialism is so dangerous in a system like our own.
I am not totally anti-presidentialism. In fact, I am a keen supporter for an elected head of state. However, in a system like our own, we cannot treat the PM, an official that we did not directly elect, as our representative. We cannot shower upon him the duties, privileges and distractions that come with the role of head of state.
In an ideal world, we would have a separately elected head of state, such as a president. We may not have that, but we do have a very large, internationally respected royal family that is very capable of performing the ceremonial duties of the office. It’s important that we remember most of the duties lie with Parliament as an institution, and we leave the ribbon cutting, baby kissing, and national joy to the true head of state, Her Majesty the Queen.
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Henry Davies

Director of Operations at Filibuster
Henry is an 18-year-old studying Politics with International Relations at Aston University. He was an active Labour Party member, but resigned recently due to Corbyn's leadership.His position on the left-right spectrum varies depending on the topic he’s discussing, but generally he describes himself as a social democrat. As well as politics, he has an unhealthy relationship with Netflix and pizza.
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3 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Dreadful A level essay that will cause the author to cringe when re-reading in about two or three years time.

  2. Hello "Anonymous",

    Thank you for your comment. Please find the author's reply below:

    "I am always happy to discuss my writing style, and how people believe I can improve it. If you have any specific suggestions or complaints, please feel free to contact me directly at [email protected]. However, I would like to point out that since this is a youth-orientated site whose aim is to get young people engaged in politics, perhaps writing in an accessible style is not such a bad thing after all."

  1. August 27, 2015

    […] by my colleague Henry Davies in his article on “Presidentialism” in the UK which can be found here. Though Harold Wilson arguably started the shift towards “Presidentialism” in the UK through […]

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