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How does Parliament hold government to account? DO NOW What does ‘accountability’ mean to you? How and to whom could a government be said to be accountable?

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Presentation on theme: "How does Parliament hold government to account? DO NOW What does ‘accountability’ mean to you? How and to whom could a government be said to be accountable?"— Presentation transcript:

1 How does Parliament hold government to account? DO NOW What does ‘accountability’ mean to you? How and to whom could a government be said to be accountable? Why is this important?

2 ESSAY FEEDBACK

3 Essay question ‘In theory, but not in practice, the powers of modern prime ministers are unlimited.’ Discuss. (25)

4 L Explicit and sustained contrast between the theoretical and the practical extent of prime ministers’ power, including a clear engagement with the idea of ‘unlimited’ power and with the ‘modern’ (or more presidential) prime minister L More detailed discussion about the nature of and limits to prime ministers’ powers, e.g. royal prerogative powers, power exercised through the whips vs. threat of backbench rebellions, votes of no confidence, etc. L Some discussion about the limits to prime ministers’ powers, e.g. (s)he must maintain the support of the Cabinet and/or party in order to stay in office L1 1-6 Simple statements about prime ministerial power, e.g. (s)he has the ability to appoint and dismiss government ministers

5 L Explicit and sustained contrast between the theoretical and the practical extent of prime ministers’ power, including a clear engagement with the idea of ‘unlimited’ power and with the ‘modern’ (or more presidential) prime minister L More detailed discussion about the nature of and limits to prime ministers’ powers, e.g. royal prerogative powers, power exercised through the whips vs. threat of backbench rebellions, votes of no confidence, etc. L Some discussion about the limits to prime ministers’ powers, e.g. (s)he must maintain the support of the Cabinet and/or party in order to stay in office L1 1-6 Simple statements about prime ministerial power, e.g. (s)he has the ability to appoint and dismiss government ministers

6 ‘In theory, but not in practice, the powers of modern prime ministers are unlimited.’ Discuss. (25) The image of theoretically ‘unlimited’ prime ministerial power reflects the idea that the executive has gained in influence vs both the legislature and the judiciary over the past few decades. This theory was popular during the careers of apparently ‘presidential’ prime ministers such as Thatcher and Blair, but began to wane under Brown and has withered under the coalition. The contrast between different occupants of No.10 Downing Street reveals a great deal about the theoretical extent and practical limits on the powers of the prime minister. Although mostly the product of convention rather than statute, the prime minister has extensive powers that allow him or her to perform a number of definite roles. As chairman of the Cabinet, (s)he controls the cabinet agenda. As chief executive of government (s)he draws on Royal Prerogative Powers allowing him/her to appoint and dismiss ministers and to determine the structure of departments. As leader of a parliamentary party, (s)he uses the whip’s office to muster support for preferred legislation. There are, however, quite specific limits to each of these broad powers. Specifically, a prime minister requires the support of his/her Cabinet and party and, by extension, the wider public, in order to govern effectively. Which of these is more important at any specific point in time may vary. For example, during his first term in office, Tony Blair enjoyed enormous popular approval ratings, a huge majority in the House of Commons and the gratitude of his party for leading them out of the political wilderness. This enabled him to dominate the machinery of government, to rely almost exclusively on his ‘kitchen’ cabinet, to hire and fire ministers at will, and to govern effectively by fiat. This was Blair at his most presidential, employing the theoretically unlimited powers of his office to the full. It should be noted that, even at the height of his powers, Blair was unable to impose himself on the personality of Gordon Brown, whose explicit support was always a pre-condition of support among most left wing Labour backbenchers. This limitation became progressively more serious following the Iraq war (2003) which eroded Blair’s popularity, increased resentment among backbenchers, and fostered mistrust among his Cabinet. Each of these factors was inter-linked, but the loss of support in the parliamentary party, which resulted in key legislation—for example, over university tuition fees—needing Conservative support to clear the House of Commons, was probably most significant. Under Brown, the capacity of outside factors to bind a PM’s hands became more obvious. Lacking Blair’s early popularity, electoral legitimacy, media savvy, or parliamentary majority, Brown was always more vulnerable than Blair. His early attempt to form a “government of all the talents” in 2007 may have been an attempt to build a wider base of support for his Prime Ministership. It failed. Over time, Brown’s inability to secure party loyalty made him increasingly vulnerable. Figures such as David Miliband and even his longtime ally Ed Balls emerged as potential party leaders with greater electoral appeal than Brown. And Brown’s own handling of electoral strategy, including his failure to go to the polls in 2007, weighed heavily against him. The coalition has seen more of the same. David Cameron initially gained influence over the right wing of his party by binding them into the Coalition Agreement. He also won grudging respect for being the only politician who could have made coalition work—which earned back some of the credibility he sacrificed by having failed to win a theoretically un-losable election. Over time, however, Cameron, too, has yielded control of the political agenda to the right wing of his party and to UKIP over ‘hot button’ topics such as immigration, membership of the EU and devolution. Cameron has not faced a serious challenge to his leadership, but his ability to pursue significant legislation has dwindled since the coalition agreement expired. In conclusion, the power of the prime minister is not only practically limited but highly variable. Prime ministers with the skill and good fortune to win elections convincingly, control their parties effectively and dominate their Cabinet consistently, can appear all-powerful. But these are the exception rather than the rule.

7 Learning objectives To describe how Parliament is structured and who are its members To investigate Parliament’s role in holding the government to account To evaluate the effectiveness of Prime Minister’s questions as a means of holding to account

8 Who is in Parliament? Parliament is composed of three parts: - Monarch - House of Lords (‘upper chamber’) - House of Commons (‘lower chamber’)

9 Who is in the House of Commons? Party# seats (2010) Conservative306 Labour258 Liberal Democrat57 Democratic Unionist8 Scottish Nationalist Party6 Sinn Fein5 Plaid Cymru3 Social Democratic and Labour Party3 Alliance1 Green1 Independent1 Speaker1

10 What happens in the House of Commons? The House of Commons has supreme legislative power; it may propose, amend, and pass laws, including “money bills”. The HoC can, in some circumstances, dismiss the government through a Vote of No Confidence. The HoC is where every prime minister of the past century has sat and over 90% of all ministers are drawn from there. Much emphasis is placed on the relationship between the House of Commons and the Executive.

11 Who is in the House of Lords? Type# seats (2010) Life peers (appointed)671 Hereditary peers90 ‘Lords spiritual’ (bishops & archbishops) 25 Party# seats (2010) Conservative217 Labour238 Crossbenchers (no party)186 Liberal Democrat90 Other parties30 Lords spiritual25

12 What happens in the House of Lords? The House of Lords has subsidiary legislative power; it may revise and amend bills on their passage into law, but may only delay them for up to one year. The HoL cannot vote on spending bills. In both cases, this is because the HoL lacks electoral legitimacy. Members of the HoL can serve as government ministers; industry leaders and others have been ‘elevated’ to the Lords for this purpose.

13 Who is the monarch? Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, Queen, Defender of the Faith Hellew. One is very pleased to meet Year 12.

14 What is the Monarch’s role? In theory, the monarch has the final say as to whether a bill can pass into law by giving it Royal Assent, after which the bill becomes an Act of Parliament. However, Royal Assent is largely automatic. No monarch has declined to give their assent to a bill since Queen Anne in 1707.

15 What does Parliament do? Parliament has three key functions: Representation ‒Debating issues of national or local importance ‒Providing redress of grievances Legitimation ‒Holding government to account ‒Scrutinising government finances Legislation ‒Making new laws or amending existing ones

16 What does Parliament do? Parliament has three key functions: Representation ‒Debating issues of national or local importance ‒Providing redress of grievances Legitimation ‒Holding government to account ‒Scrutinising government finances Legislation ‒Making new laws or amending existing ones

17 Is it that easy? What might limit Parliament’s ability effectively to hold the government to account? Discuss your ideas with a partner.

18 How does Parliament hold the government to account? Prime minister’s questions are held every Wednesday while Parliament is in session. Watch this excerpt from PMQs in September.excerpt As you watch, try to notice how David Cameron’s answers differ depending on: (a) The subject of the question (b) Who is asking the question How would Cameron rate his own performance during this turn at the Despatch Box? Explain your answer.

19 How does Parliament hold the government to account? You will have one of four roles in today’s PMQs: 1.Prime minister (or other government minister) 2.Opposition front bencher (‘shadow minister’) 3.Conservative back bencher 4.Reporter All parties will need to research one key policy area, either to defend the government’s record in office, or to attack it. You must read the briefing that relates to your role before you attempt to research the key topic.

20 ORDER!

21 How effective are PMQs? How effective is Prime Minister’s questions as a means of holding the government to account?

22 STUDENT RESOURCES

23 Prime minister’s briefing As Prime Minister, you will be expected to answer questions on four broad topics: ₋The UK’s relationship with Europe ₋The threat of terrorism, specifically Islamic fundamentalism ₋Proposals to further devolution to the countries and regions of the UK ₋The state of the economy As Prime Minister, you are expected to defend the government’s record in office and policy positions. This will typically involve the use of strident language on sensitive topics such as the economy. You can be asked questions by any member of the House: some of these will be questions about matters of national interest that have cross-party support; some will be friendly questions designed to give you an opportunity to show off the government’s achievements; some will be more pointed and hostile. You will respond very differently depending on the nature of the question. Your comments are made to the whole House, including your own party, and by extension to the wider public. You must think carefully about how they will be received.

24 MP’s briefing As a member of the House of Commons, you have a responsibility to hold the government to account by asking searching questions about matters of national interest. In practice, however, party loyalties will determine the questions most MPs ask and how they ask them. Conservative members will usually attempt to support the government by giving it an opportunity to show off. Labour members will be much more critical. Nonetheless, there are matters of national interest on which members will want to show unity across the House. During today’s session, the government will answer questions on four broad topics: ₋The UK’s relationship with Europe ₋The threat of terrorism, specifically Islamic fundamentalism ₋Proposals to further devolution to the countries and regions of the UK ₋The state of the economy

25 Reporter’s briefing As a member of the national press, you are expected to report impartially on how the government performs under scrutiny. In practice, however, most national newspapers have clear political leanings, e.g. The Guardian consistently supports the Labour Party, The Times consistently supports the Conservatives, etc. During today’s session, the government will answer questions on four broad topics: ₋The UK’s relationship with Europe ₋The threat of terrorism, specifically Islamic fundamentalism ₋Proposals to further devolution to the countries and regions of the UK ₋The state of the economy When reporting on PMQs, you will be trying to come up with headlines that capture the sense of what happened during the debate but also which generate interest, excitement and potentially political embarrassment. Your headline should summarise the most important thing you think was said in each key area. You should write one headline for The Times and another for The Guardian. In order to do this properly, you will first need to research one of the key areas yourself.

26 The Roles of Parliament Using the website, investigate the roles and powers of parliament. Compile a “Getting to Grips with Parliament” cheat sheet that will help you to remember the different roles and powers of Parliament.

27 White paperCommittee stage A standing committee of MPs (15-50) considers amendments to the bill and votes on each Royal Assent The agreement of the monarch is automatic. 1 st Reading Purely formal; the bill is read for information Report stage The whole HoC debates committee amendments and introduces now amendments 2 nd Reading A debate on the principles of the Bill, followed by a vote 3 rd Reading The bill plus amendments is debated, followed by a vote.


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