Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Overview
 
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of
Head of government
Head of government is the chief officer of the executive branch of a government, often presiding over a cabinet. In a parliamentary system, the head of government is often styled prime minister, chief minister, premier, etc...

 Her Majesty's Government
Government of the United Kingdom
Her Majesty's Government is the central government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Government is led by the Prime Minister, who selects all the remaining Ministers...

 in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

. The Prime Minister and Cabinet
Cabinet of the United Kingdom
The Cabinet of the United Kingdom is the collective decision-making body of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, composed of the Prime Minister and some 22 Cabinet Ministers, the most senior of the government ministers....

 (consisting of all the most senior ministers
Minister (government)
A minister is a politician who holds significant public office in a national or regional government. Senior ministers are members of the cabinet....

, who are government department heads) are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign
Monarchy of the United Kingdom
The monarchy of the United Kingdom is the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories. The present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, has reigned since 6 February 1952. She and her immediate family undertake various official, ceremonial and representational duties...

, to Parliament
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

, to their political party and ultimately to the electorate
Electorate
Electorate may refer to:* voters, people entitled to vote in an election* electoral district or constituency, the geographic area of a particular election* The dominion of a Prince-elector in the Holy Roman Empire...

.
Timeline

1721    Sir Robert Walpole enters office as the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom under King George I.

1742    Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington, becomes British Prime Minister.

1743    Henry Pelham becomes British Prime Minister.

1782    Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

1830    Charles Grey, (2nd Earl Grey), became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

1908    H. H. Asquith of the Liberal Party takes office as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, succeeding Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman

1924    Ramsay MacDonald becomes the first Labour Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

1943    World War II: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt set Monday, May 1, 1944 as the date for the Normandy landings ("D-Day"). It would later be delayed over a month due to bad weather.

1943    British Overseas Airways Corporation Flight 777 is shot down over the Bay of Biscay by German Junkers Ju 88s, killing actor Leslie Howard and leading to speculation the downing was an attempt to kill British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

1945    World War II: the leaders of the three Allied nations, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill, President of the United States Harry S Truman and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, meet in the German city of Potsdam to decide the future of a defeated Germany.

Encyclopedia
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of
Head of government
Head of government is the chief officer of the executive branch of a government, often presiding over a cabinet. In a parliamentary system, the head of government is often styled prime minister, chief minister, premier, etc...

 Her Majesty's Government
Government of the United Kingdom
Her Majesty's Government is the central government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Government is led by the Prime Minister, who selects all the remaining Ministers...

 in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

. The Prime Minister and Cabinet
Cabinet of the United Kingdom
The Cabinet of the United Kingdom is the collective decision-making body of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, composed of the Prime Minister and some 22 Cabinet Ministers, the most senior of the government ministers....

 (consisting of all the most senior ministers
Minister (government)
A minister is a politician who holds significant public office in a national or regional government. Senior ministers are members of the cabinet....

, who are government department heads) are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign
Monarchy of the United Kingdom
The monarchy of the United Kingdom is the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories. The present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, has reigned since 6 February 1952. She and her immediate family undertake various official, ceremonial and representational duties...

, to Parliament
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

, to their political party and ultimately to the electorate
Electorate
Electorate may refer to:* voters, people entitled to vote in an election* electoral district or constituency, the geographic area of a particular election* The dominion of a Prince-elector in the Holy Roman Empire...

. The , David Cameron
David Cameron
David William Donald Cameron is the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, First Lord of the Treasury, Minister for the Civil Service and Leader of the Conservative Party. Cameron represents Witney as its Member of Parliament ....

, leader of the Conservative Party
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

, was appointed on 11 May 2010.

The position of Prime Minister was not created; it evolved slowly and erratically over three hundred years due to numerous acts of Parliament, political developments, and accidents of history. The office is therefore best understood from a historical perspective. The origins of the position are found in constitutional changes that occurred during the Revolutionary Settlement (1688–1720) and the resulting shift of political power from the Sovereign to Parliament. Although the Sovereign was not stripped of his or her ancient prerogatives and legally remained the head of government, politically it gradually became necessary for him or her to govern through a Prime Minister who could command a majority in Parliament.

By the 1830s the Westminster System of government (or Cabinet Government) had emerged; the Prime Minister had became "first among equals" in the Cabinet and head of Her Majesty's Government. The political position of Prime Minister was enhanced by the development of modern political parties, the introduction of mass communication (inexpensive newspapers, radio, television and the internet), and photography. By the turn of the 20th century the modern premiership had emerged; the office had become the pre-eminent position in the constitutional hierarchy vis-a-vis the Sovereign, Parliament and Cabinet.

As leader of the House of Commons, the Prime Minister's authority was further enhanced by the Parliament Act of 1911 which marginalised the influence of the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

 in the law-making process. The accretion of so much political power in one position gave rise to concerns that the office had become too "presidential", and that the Prime Minister was an "elected Monarch". Late in the 20th century several acts of Parliament and political changes placed some limits on the Premier's authority.

Authority

As the "Head of Her Majesty's Government" the modern Prime Minister leads the Cabinet (the Executive
Executive (government)
Executive branch of Government is the part of government that has sole authority and responsibility for the daily administration of the state bureaucracy. The division of power into separate branches of government is central to the idea of the separation of powers.In many countries, the term...

). In addition the Prime Minister leads a major political party and generally commands a majority in the House of Commons (the lower house of the Legislature
Legislature
A legislature is a kind of deliberative assembly with the power to pass, amend, and repeal laws. The law created by a legislature is called legislation or statutory law. In addition to enacting laws, legislatures usually have exclusive authority to raise or lower taxes and adopt the budget and...

). As such the incumbent wields both legislative and executive powers. Under the British system there is a unity of powers rather than separation
Separation of powers
The separation of powers, often imprecisely used interchangeably with the trias politica principle, is a model for the governance of a state. The model was first developed in ancient Greece and came into widespread use by the Roman Republic as part of the unmodified Constitution of the Roman Republic...

. In the House of Commons, the Prime Minister guides the law-making process with the goal of enacting the legislative agenda of their political party. In an executive capacity the Prime Minister appoints (and may dismiss) all other cabinet members and ministers
Minister (government)
A minister is a politician who holds significant public office in a national or regional government. Senior ministers are members of the cabinet....

, and co-ordinates the policies and activities of all government departments, and the staff of the Civil Service. The Prime Minister also acts as the public "face" and "voice" of Her Majesty's Government, both at home and abroad. Solely upon the advice of the Prime Minister, the Sovereign exercises many statutory and prerogative powers: they include the dissolution of Parliament; high judicial, political, official and Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

 ecclesiastical appointments; and the conferral of peerages, knighthoods, decorations and other honours.

Constitutional background

The British system of government is based on an "unwritten" constitution
Constitution of the United Kingdom
The constitution of the United Kingdom is the set of laws and principles under which the United Kingdom is governed.Unlike many other nations, the UK has no single core constitutional document. In this sense, it is said not to have a written constitution but an uncodified one...

, meaning that it is not codified into a single document. Scattered across 800 years, the British constitution consists of many documents—such as Magna Carta
Magna Carta
Magna Carta is an English charter, originally issued in the year 1215 and reissued later in the 13th century in modified versions, which included the most direct challenges to the monarch's authority to date. The charter first passed into law in 1225...

 (1215), the Great Reform Bill (1832), and the Parliament Act
Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949
The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 are two Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which form part of the constitution of the United Kingdom. Section 2 of the Parliament Act 1949 provides that that Act and the Parliament Act 1911 are to be construed as one.The Parliament Act 1911 The...

 (1911)—and, most important for the evolution of the office of Prime Minister, customs known as convention
Constitutional convention (political custom)
A constitutional convention is an informal and uncodified procedural agreement that is followed by the institutions of a state. In some states, notably those Commonwealth of Nations states that follow the Westminster system and whose political systems derive from British constitutional law, most...

s that became accepted practice. In 1841, Prime Minister Lord Melbourne explained this feature of the British constitution in a letter to young Queen Victoria:
All the political part of the English Constitution is fully understood, and distinctly stated in Blackstone and many other books, but the Ministerial part, the work of conducting the executive government, has rested so much on practice, on usage, on understanding, that there is no particular publication to which reference can be made for the explanation and description of it. It is to be sought in debates, in protests, in letters, in memoirs, and wherever it can be picked up.


Almost one hundred years later, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith made the same point in his memoirs:
In this country we live . . . under an unwritten Constitution. It is true that we have on the Statute-book great instruments like Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, and the Bill of Rights which define and secure many of our rights and privileges; but the great bulk of our constitutional liberties and . . . our constitutional practices do not derive their validity and sanction from any Bill which has received the formal assent of the King, Lords and Commons. They rest on usage, custom, convention, often of slow growth in their early stages, not always uniform, but which in the course of time received universal observance and respect.


Until the 20th century the relationship between the Prime Minister vis-a-vis the Sovereign, Parliament and Cabinet was defined entirely by these unwritten conventions of the constitution. Despite its growing dominance in the constitutional hierarchy, the Premiership was given little formal recognition; the legal fiction was maintained that the Sovereign still governed directly. For example, many of the Prime Minister's executive and legislative powers are actually “royal prerogative
Royal Prerogative
The royal prerogative is a body of customary authority, privilege, and immunity, recognized in common law and, sometimes, in civil law jurisdictions possessing a monarchy as belonging to the sovereign alone. It is the means by which some of the executive powers of government, possessed by and...

s” and still formally vested in the Head of State, the Sovereign
Monarchy of the United Kingdom
The monarchy of the United Kingdom is the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories. The present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, has reigned since 6 February 1952. She and her immediate family undertake various official, ceremonial and representational duties...

.

Under this arrangement Britain might appear to have two executives: the Prime Minister and Sovereign. The concept of "the Crown
The Crown
The Crown is a corporation sole that in the Commonwealth realms and any provincial or state sub-divisions thereof represents the legal embodiment of governance, whether executive, legislative, or judicial...

" resolves this paradox. The Crown symbolises the state’s authority to govern: to make laws and execute them, impose taxes and collect them, declare war and make peace. Before the "Glorious Revolution
Glorious Revolution
The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, is the overthrow of King James II of England by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau...

" of 1688 the Sovereign wore the Crown and exercised the powers it symbolises. Afterwards Parliament gradually forced Sovereigns to assume a neutral political position. Parliament placed the Crown in "commission", entrusting its authority to responsible Ministers (the Prime Minister and Cabinet), accountable for their policies and actions to Parliament and the people. Although the Sovereign still wears the Crown and her prerogative powers are still legally intact,The Sovereign's prerogative powers are sometimes called reserve powers. They include the sole authority to dismiss a Prime Minister and government of the day in extremely rare and exceptional circumstances, and other essential powers (such as the veto, and summoning, proroguing and dissolving Parliament) to preserve the stability of the nation. Reserve powers are available to her to use without the consent of Parliament. She also, through her various Governor Generals in the Commonwealth nations, has various and differed reserve powers in each realm. Reserve powers, in practice, are the court of absolute last resort in resolving situations that fundamentally threaten the security and stability of the nation as a whole and are almost never used. Elizabeth II has never used her reserve powers. Parliament has removed her from everyday governance, leaving her in practice with three constitutional rights: to be kept informed, to advise, and to warn.

Revolutionary settlement

Because the Premiership was not intentionally created, there is no exact date when its evolution began. A meaningful starting point, however, is 1688-9 when James II
James II of England
James II & VII was King of England and King of Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685. He was the last Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland...

 fled England
Kingdom of England
The Kingdom of England was, from 927 to 1707, a sovereign state to the northwest of continental Europe. At its height, the Kingdom of England spanned the southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain and several smaller outlying islands; what today comprises the legal jurisdiction of England...

 and the Parliament of England
Parliament of England
The Parliament of England was the legislature of the Kingdom of England. In 1066, William of Normandy introduced a feudal system, by which he sought the advice of a council of tenants-in-chief and ecclesiastics before making laws...

 confirmed William and Mary as joint constitutional monarchs, enacting legislation that limited their authority and that of their successors: the Bill of Rights (1689)
Bill of Rights 1689
The Bill of Rights or the Bill of Rights 1688 is an Act of the Parliament of England.The Bill of Rights was passed by Parliament on 16 December 1689. It was a re-statement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right presented by the Convention Parliament to William and Mary in March 1689 ,...

, the Mutiny Bill (1689), the Triennial Bill
Triennial Acts
The Triennial Act 1641 was an Act passed on 15 February 1641, by the English Long Parliament, during the reign of King Charles I. The act requires that Parliament meet for at least a fifty-day session once every three years. It was intended to prevent kings from ruling without Parliament, as...

 (1694), the Treason Act (1696)
Treason Act 1695
The Treason Act 1695 is an Act of the Parliament of England which laid down rules of evidence and procedure in high treason trials. It was passed by the English Parliament but was extended to cover Scotland in 1708 and Ireland in 1821...

 and the Act of Settlement (1701)
Act of Settlement 1701
The Act of Settlement is an act of the Parliament of England that was passed in 1701 to settle the succession to the English throne on the Electress Sophia of Hanover and her Protestant heirs. The act was later extended to Scotland, as a result of the Treaty of Union , enacted in the Acts of Union...

. Known collectively as the Revolutionary Settlement, these acts transformed the constitution, shifting the balance of power from the Sovereign to Parliament. They also provided the basis for the evolution of the office of Prime Minister, which did not exist at that time.

Treasury Bench

The Revolutionary Settlement gave the Commons control over finances and legislation and changed the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature. For want of money, Sovereigns had to summon Parliament annually and could no longer dissolve or prorogue it without its advice and consent. Parliament became a permanent feature of political life. The veto fell into disuse because Sovereigns feared that if they denied legislation Parliament would deny them money. No Sovereign has denied royal assent
Royal Assent
The granting of royal assent refers to the method by which any constitutional monarch formally approves and promulgates an act of his or her nation's parliament, thus making it a law...

 since Queen Anne vetoed the Scottish Militia Bill
Scottish Militia Bill 1708
The Scottish Militia Bill is the usual name given to a bill that was passed by the House of Commons and House of Lords of the Parliament of Great Britain in spring 1708, but vetoed by Queen Anne on the advice of her ministers on 11 March 1708 for fear that the proposed militia created would be...

 in 1708.

Treasury officials and other department heads were drawn into Parliament serving as liaisons between it and the Sovereign. Ministers had to present the government's policies, and negotiate with Members to gain the support of the majority; they had to explain the government's financial needs, suggest ways of meeting them and give an account of how money had been spent. The Sovereign’s representatives attended Commons sessions so regularly that they were given reserved seats at the front, known as the Treasury Bench. This is the beginning of "unity of powers": the Sovereign's Ministers (the Executive) became leading members of Parliament (the Legislature). Today the Prime Minister (First Lord of the Treasury
First Lord of the Treasury
The First Lord of the Treasury is the head of the commission exercising the ancient office of Lord High Treasurer in the United Kingdom, and is now always also the Prime Minister...

), the Chancellor of the Exchequer
Chancellor of the Exchequer
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the title held by the British Cabinet minister who is responsible for all economic and financial matters. Often simply called the Chancellor, the office-holder controls HM Treasury and plays a role akin to the posts of Minister of Finance or Secretary of the...

 (responsible for The Budget
United Kingdom budget
The United Kingdom budget deals with HM Treasury budgeting the revenues gathered by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and expenditures of public sector departments, in compliance with government policy.Adjustment is achieved with the GDP deflator....

) and other senior members of the Cabinet sit on the Treasury bench and present policies in much the same way Ministers did late in the 17th century.

Standing Order 66

After the Revolution there was a constant threat that non-government members of Parliament would ruin the country's finances by proposing ill-considered money bills. Vying for control to avoid chaos the Crown's Ministers gained an advantage in 1706 when the Commons informally declared, "That this House will receive no petition for any sum of money relating to public Service, but what is recommended from the Crown." On 11 June 1713 this non-binding rule became Standing Order 66: that "the Commons would not vote money for any purpose, except on a motion of a Minister of the Crown." Standing Order 66 remains in effect today (though renumbered as no. 48), essentially unchanged for three hundred years.

Empowering Ministers with sole financial initiative had an immediate and lasting impact. Apart from achieving its intended purpose – to stabilise the budgetary process – it gave the Crown a leadership role in the Commons; and, the Lord Treasurer assumed a leading position among Ministers.

The power of financial initiative was not, however, absolute. Only Ministers might initiate money bills, but Parliament now reviewed and consented to them. Standing Order 66 therefore represents the beginnings of Ministerial responsibility and accountability.

The term "Prime Minister" appears at this time as an unofficial title for the leader of the government, usually the head of the Treasury. Jonathan Swift, for example, wrote in 1713 about "those who are now commonly called Prime Minister among us", referring to Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin
Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin
Sir Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin, KG, PC was a leading English politician of the late 17th and early 18th centuries...

 and Robert Harley
Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Mortimer
Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer KG was a British politician and statesman of the late Stuart and early Georgian periods. He began his career as a Whig, before defecting to a new Tory Ministry. Between 1711 and 1714 he served as First Lord of the Treasury, effectively Queen...

, Queen Anne's
Anne of Great Britain
Anne ascended the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland on 8 March 1702. On 1 May 1707, under the Act of Union, two of her realms, England and Scotland, were united as a single sovereign state, the Kingdom of Great Britain.Anne's Catholic father, James II and VII, was deposed during the...

 Lord Treasurers and chief ministers. Since 1721, every head of the Sovereign's government – with one exception in the 18th century (William Pitt the Elder) and one in the 19th (Lord Salisbury
Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury
Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, KG, GCVO, PC , styled Lord Robert Cecil before 1865 and Viscount Cranborne from June 1865 until April 1868, was a British Conservative statesman and thrice Prime Minister, serving for a total of over 13 years...

) – has been First Lord of the Treasury.

Beginnings of the Prime Minister's party leadership

The modern Prime Minister is the leader of a major political party with millions of followers. In the general election of 1997, for example, 13.5 million people voted for the Labour Party
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 led by Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

; 9.6 million for the Conservative Party
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

, led by John Major
John Major
Sir John Major, is a British Conservative politician, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1990–1997...

, the previous Prime Minister; and, 5.2 million for the Liberal Democrat Party
Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats are a social liberal political party in the United Kingdom which supports constitutional and electoral reform, progressive taxation, wealth taxation, human rights laws, cultural liberalism, banking reform and civil liberties .The party was formed in 1988 by a merger of the...

 led by Paddy Ashdown
Paddy Ashdown
Jeremy John Durham Ashdown, Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, GCMG, KBE, PC , usually known as Paddy Ashdown, is a British politician and diplomat....

. Generally agreeing on policies, party leaders and their supporters suppress their differences of opinion at the polls for the sake of gaining a majority of seats in the Commons and being able to form a government.

Political parties first appeared during the Exclusion Crisis of 1678–1681. The Whigs, who believed in limited monarchy, wanted to exclude James Stuart
James II of England
James II & VII was King of England and King of Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685. He was the last Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland...

 from succeeding to the throne because he was a Catholic. The Tories
Tories (political faction)
The Tories were members of two political parties which existed, sequentially, in the Kingdom of England, the Kingdom of Great Britain and later the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from the 17th to the early 19th centuries.-Overview:...

, who believed in the "Divine Right of Kings
Divine Right of Kings
The divine right of kings or divine-right theory of kingship is a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy. It asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving his right to rule directly from the will of God...

", defended James' hereditary claim. These parties dominated British politics for over 150 years, with the Whigs evolving into the Liberal Party
Liberal Party (UK)
The Liberal Party was one of the two major political parties of the United Kingdom during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a third party of negligible importance throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, before merging with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the present day...

 and the Tories into the Conservative. Even today, Conservatives are often called "Tories".

Political parties were not well organised or disciplined in the 17th century. They were more like factions with "members" drifting in and out, collaborating temporarily on issues when it was to their advantage, then disbanding when it was not. A major deterrent to the development of opposing parties was the idea that there could only be one "King's Party" and to oppose it would be disloyal or even treasonous. This idea lingered throughout the 18th century. Nevertheless it became possible at the end of the 17th century to identify Parliaments and Ministries as being either "Whig" or "Tory" in composition.

Cabinet

The modern Prime Minister is also the leader of the Cabinet. A convention of the constitution, the modern Cabinet is a group of ministers who formulate policies. As the political heads of government departments Cabinet Ministers ensure that policies are carried out by permanent civil servants. Although the modern Prime Minister selects Ministers, appointment still rests with the Sovereign. With the Prime Minister as its leader, the Cabinet forms the executive branch of government.Once in office, the Prime Minister fills not only Cabinet level positions but many other government offices (up to 90 appointments), selected mostly from the House of Commons, distributing them to party members, partly as a reward for their loyalty. The power to make so many appointments to government offices is one of the most effective means the Prime Minister has of maintaining party discipline in the Commons.

The term "Cabinet" first appears after the Revolutionary Settlement to describe those ministers who conferred privately with the Sovereign. The growth of the Cabinet met with widespread complaint and opposition because its meetings were often held in secret and it excluded the ancient Privy Council from the Sovereign's circle of advisers, reducing it to an honorary body. The early Cabinet, like that of today, included the Treasurer and other department heads who sat on the Treasury bench. However, it might also include individuals who were not members of Parliament such as household officers (i.e. the Master of the Horse) and members of the royal family. The exclusion of non-members of Parliament from the Cabinet was essential to the development of ministerial accountability and responsibility.

Both William and Anne appointed and dismissed Cabinet members, attended meetings, made decisions, and followed up on actions. Relieving the Sovereign of these responsibilities and gaining control over the Cabinet's composition was an essential part of evolution of the Premiership. This process began after the Hanoverian Succession. Although George I
George I of Great Britain
George I was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1 August 1714 until his death, and ruler of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg in the Holy Roman Empire from 1698....

 (1714–1727) attended Cabinet meetings at first, after 1717 he withdrew because he did not speak English and was bored with the discussions. George II
George II of Great Britain
George II was King of Great Britain and Ireland, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Archtreasurer and Prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire from 11 June 1727 until his death.George was the last British monarch born outside Great Britain. He was born and brought up in Northern Germany...

 (1727–1760) occasionally presided at Cabinet meetings but his grandson, George III
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

 (1760–1820), is known to have attended only two during his 60 year reign. Thus, the convention that Sovereigns do not attend Cabinet meetings was established primarily through royal indifference to the everyday tasks of governance. The Prime Minister became responsible for calling meetings, presiding, taking notes, and reporting to the Sovereign. These simple executive tasks naturally gave the Prime Minister ascendancy over his Cabinet colleagues.

Although the first three Hanoverians rarely attended Cabinet meetings they insisted on their prerogatives to appoint and dismiss ministers and to direct policy even if from outside the Cabinet. It was not until late in the 18th century that Prime Ministers gained control over Cabinet composition (see section Emergence of Cabinet Government below).

"One Party Government"

British governments (or Ministries) are generally formed by one party. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are usually all members of the same political party, almost always the one that has a majority of seats in the House of Commons. Coalition governments (a ministry that consists of representatives from two or more parties) and minority governments (a one-party ministry formed by a party that does not command a majority in the Commons) are relatively rare. "One party government", as this system is sometimes called, has been the general rule for almost three hundred years.

Early in his reign, William
William III of England
William III & II was a sovereign Prince of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau by birth. From 1672 he governed as Stadtholder William III of Orange over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic. From 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland...

 (1689–1702) preferred "Mixed Ministries" (or coalitions) consisting of both Tories and Whigs. William thought this composition would dilute the power of any one party and also give him the benefit of differing points of view. However, this approach did not work well because the members could not agree on a leader or on policies, and often worked at odds with each other.

In 1697, William formed a homogeneous Whig ministry. Known as the Junto, this government is often cited as the first true Cabinet because its members were all Whigs, reflecting the majority composition of the Commons.

Anne (1702–1714) followed this pattern but preferred Tory Cabinets. This approach worked well as long as Parliament was also predominantly Tory. However, in 1708, when the Whigs obtained a majority, Anne did not call on them to form a government, refusing to accept the idea that politicians could force themselves on her merely because their party had a majority. She never parted with an entire Ministry or accepted an entirely new one regardless of the results of an election. Anne preferred to retain a minority government rather than be dictated to by Parliament. Consequently, her chief ministers Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin
Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin
Sir Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin, KG, PC was a leading English politician of the late 17th and early 18th centuries...

 and Robert Harley
Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Mortimer
Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer KG was a British politician and statesman of the late Stuart and early Georgian periods. He began his career as a Whig, before defecting to a new Tory Ministry. Between 1711 and 1714 he served as First Lord of the Treasury, effectively Queen...

, who were called "Prime Minister" by some, had difficulty executing policy in the face of a hostile Parliament.

William's and Anne's experiments with the political composition of the Cabinet illustrated the strengths of one party government and the weaknesses of coalition and minority governments. Nevertheless, it was not until the 1830s that the constitutional convention was established that the Sovereign must select the Prime Minister (and Cabinet) from the party whose views reflect those of the majority in Parliament. Since then, most ministries have reflected this one party rule.

Despite the "one party" convention, Prime Ministers may still be called upon to lead either minority or coalition governments. A minority government
Minority government
A minority government or a minority cabinet is a cabinet of a parliamentary system formed when a political party or coalition of parties does not have a majority of overall seats in the parliament but is sworn into government to break a Hung Parliament election result. It is also known as a...

 may be formed as a result of a "hung parliament
Hung parliament
In a two-party parliamentary system of government, a hung parliament occurs when neither major political party has an absolute majority of seats in the parliament . It is also less commonly known as a balanced parliament or a legislature under no overall control...

" in which no single party commands a majority in the House of Commons after a general election or the death, resignation or defection of existing members. By convention the serving Prime Minister is given first opportunity to reach agreements that will allow them to survive a vote of confidence in the House and continue to govern. The last minority government was led by Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Harold Wilson
James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, KG, OBE, FRS, FSS, PC was a British Labour Member of Parliament, Leader of the Labour Party. He was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the 1960s and 1970s, winning four general elections, including a minority government after the...

 for eight months after the February 1974 general election
United Kingdom general election, February 1974
The United Kingdom's general election of February 1974 was held on the 28th of that month. It was the first of two United Kingdom general elections held that year, and the first election since the Second World War not to produce an overall majority in the House of Commons for the winning party,...

 produced a hung parliament. In the October 1974 general election
United Kingdom general election, October 1974
The United Kingdom general election of October 1974 took place on 10 October 1974 to elect 635 members to the British House of Commons. It was the second general election of that year and resulted in the Labour Party led by Harold Wilson, winning by a tiny majority of 3 seats.The election of...

, the Labour Party gained 18 seats, giving Wilson a majority of three.

A hung parliament may also lead to the formation of a coalition government
Coalition government
A coalition government is a cabinet of a parliamentary government in which several political parties cooperate. The usual reason given for this arrangement is that no party on its own can achieve a majority in the parliament...

 in which two or more parties negotiate a joint programme to command a majority in the Commons. Coalitions have also been formed during times of national crisis such as war. Under this circumstance, the parties agree to temporarily set aside their political differences and unite to face the national crisis. Coalitions are rare; since 1721, there have been fewer than a dozen. When the general election of 2010 produced a hung parliament, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties agreed to form Her Majesty's current coalition government, the first in seventy years. The last Coalition in the UK before 2010 was led by Conservative Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 during most of the Second World War from May 1940 to May 1945. Clement Attlee
Clement Attlee
Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, KG, OM, CH, PC, FRS was a British Labour politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951, and as the Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955...

, the leader of the Labour Party, served as Deputy Prime Minister.

Treasury Commission

The Premiership is still largely a convention of the constitution; its legal authority is derived primarily from the fact that the Prime Minister is also First Lord of the Treasury. The connection of these two offices – one a convention, the other a legal office – began with the Hanoverian Succession in 1714.

When George I succeeded to the English throne in 1714, his German ministers advised him to leave the office of Lord High Treasurer
Lord High Treasurer
The post of Lord High Treasurer or Lord Treasurer was an English government position and has been a British government position since the Act of Union of 1707. A holder of the post would be the third highest ranked Great Officer of State, below the Lord High Chancellor and above the Lord President...

 vacant because those who had held it in recent years had grown overly powerful, in effect, replacing the Sovereign as head of the government. They also feared that a Lord High Treasurer would undermine their own influence with the new King. They therefore suggested that he place the office in "commission", meaning that a committee of five ministers would perform its functions together. Theoretically, this dilution of authority would prevent any one of them from presuming to be the head of the government. The King agreed and created the Treasury Commission consisting of the First Lord of the Treasury, the Second Lord, and three Junior Lords.

No one has been appointed Lord High Treasurer since 1714; it has remained in commission for three hundred years. The Treasury Commission ceased to meet late in the 18th century but has survived, albeit with very different functions: the First Lord of the Treasury is now the Prime Minister, the Second Lord is the Chancellor of the Exchequer (and actually in charge of the Treasury), and the Junior Lords are government Whips maintaining party discipline in the House of Commons; they no longer have any duties related to the Treasury, though when subordinate legislation requires the consent of the Treasury it is still two of the Junior Lords who sign on its behalf.See e.g. the various orders prescribing fees to be taken in public offices

"First" Prime Minister

Since the office was not created, there is no "first" Prime Minister. However, the honorary appellation is traditionally given to Sir Robert Walpole
Robert Walpole
Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, KG, KB, PC , known before 1742 as Sir Robert Walpole, was a British statesman who is generally regarded as having been the first Prime Minister of Great Britain....

 who became First Lord of the Treasury in 1721.
In 1720, the South Sea Company, created to trade in cotton, agricultural goods and slaves, collapsed, causing the financial ruin of thousands of investors and heavy losses for many others including members of the royal family. King George I called on Robert Walpole, well known for his political and financial acumen, to handle the emergency. With considerable skill and some luck, Walpole acted quickly to restore public credit and confidence, and led the country out of the crisis. A year later, the King appointed him First Lord of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Leader of the House of Commons making him the most powerful minister in the government. Ruthless, crude, and hard-working, he had a "sagacious business sense" and was a superb manager of men. At the head of affairs for the next two decades, Walpole stabilised the nation's finances, kept it at peace, made it prosperous, and secured the Hanoverian Succession.

Walpole demonstrated for the first time how a chief minister – a Prime Minister – could be the actual Head of the Government under the new constitutional framework. First, recognising that the Sovereign could no longer govern directly but was still the nominal head of the government, he insisted that he was nothing more than the "King's Servant". Second, recognising that power had shifted to the Commons, he conducted the nation's business there and made it dominant over the Lords in all matters. Third, recognising that the Cabinet had become the executive and must be united, he dominated the other members and demanded their complete support for his policies. Fourth, recognising that political parties were the source of ministerial strength, he led the Whig party and maintained discipline. In the Commons, he insisted on the support of all Whig members, especially those who held office. Finally, he set an example for future Prime Ministers by resigning his offices in 1742 after a vote of confidence, which he won by just 3 votes. This slim majority undermined his power even though he still retained the confidence of the Sovereign.

Ambivalence and denial

For all his contributions, Walpole was not a Prime Minister in the modern sense. The King—not Parliament—chose him; and the King—not Walpole—chose the Cabinet. Walpole set an example, not a precedent, and few followed his example. For over 40 years after Walpole's fall in 1742, there was widespread ambivalence about the position. In some cases, the Prime Minister was a figurehead with power being wielded by other individuals; in others there was a reversion to the "chief minister" model of earlier times in which the Sovereign actually governed. At other times, there appeared to be two prime ministers. During Britain's participation in the Seven Years War
Great Britain in the Seven Years War
The Kingdom of Great Britain was one of the major participants in the Seven Years' War which lasted between 1756 and 1763. Britain emerged from the war as the world's leading colonial power having gained a number of new territories at the Treaty of Paris in 1763 and established itself as the...

, for example, the powers of government were divided equally between the Duke of Newcastle and William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham
William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham
William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham PC was a British Whig statesman who led Britain during the Seven Years' War...

, leading to them both alternatively being described as Prime Minister. Furthermore, many thought that the title "Prime Minister" usurped the Sovereign's constitutional position as "head of the government" and that it was an affront to other ministers because they were all appointed by and equally responsible to the Sovereign.

For these reasons there was a reluctance to use the title. Although Walpole is now called the "first" Prime Minister, the title was not commonly used during his tenure. Walpole himself denied it. In 1741, during the attack that led to Walpole's downfall, Samuel Sandys declared that "According to our Constitution we can have no sole and prime minister." In his defence, Walpole said "I unequivocally deny that I am sole or Prime Minister and that to my influence and direction all the affairs of government must be attributed." George Grenville
George Grenville
George Grenville was a British Whig statesman who rose to the position of Prime Minister of Great Britain. Grenville was born into an influential political family and first entered Parliament in 1741 as an MP for Buckingham...

, Prime Minister in the 1760s, said it was "an odious title" and never used it. Lord North, the reluctant head of the King's Government during the American War of Independence, "would never suffer himself to be called Prime Minister, because it was an office unknown to the Constitution."The 18th-century ambivalence causes problems for researchers trying to identify who was a Prime Minister and who was not. Every list of Prime Ministers may omit certain politicians. For instance, unsuccessful attempts to form ministries—such as the two-day government formed by the Earl of Bath
William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath
William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath, PC was an English politician, a Whig, created the first Earl of Bath in 1742 by King George II; he is sometimes stated to have been Prime Minister, for the shortest term ever , though most modern sources reckon that he cannot be considered to have held the...

 in 1746, often dismissed as the "Silly Little Ministry
Short-lived Ministry
The Short-lived Ministry, also known as the Bath-Granville Ministry was a British government that existed briefly. On 10 February 1746, following the resignation of the government of Henry Pelham, the Earl of Bath undertook the formation of a ministry...

"—may be included in a list or omitted, depending on the criteria selected.


Denials of the Premiership's legal existence continued throughout the 19th century. In 1806, for example, one member of the Commons said, "the Constitution abhors the idea of a prime minister". In 1829, Lord Lansdowne
Marquess of Lansdowne
Marquess of Lansdowne, in the County of Somerset, is a title in the Peerage of Great Britain held by the head of the Petty-Fitzmaurice family. This branch of the family descends from the Hon...

 said, "nothing could be more mischievous or unconstitutional than to recognise by act of parliament the existence of such an office."

By the turn of the 20th century the Premiership had become, by convention, the most important position in the constitutional hierarchy. Yet there were no legal documents describing its powers or acknowledging its existence. Incumbents had no statutory authority in their own right. As late as 1904, Arthur Balfour explained the status of his office in a speech at Haddington: "The Prime Minister has no salary as Prime Minister. He has no statutory duties as Prime Minister, his name occurs in no Acts of Parliament, and though holding the most important place in the constitutional hierarchy, he has no place which is recognised by the laws of his country. This is a strange paradox."

In 1905 the position was given some official recognition when the "Prime Minister" was named in the order of precedence
United Kingdom order of precedence
The Order of precedence in the United Kingdom is the sequential hierarchy for nobility, clergy and holders of the various Orders of Chivalry in the constituent countries of the United Kingdom:* England and Wales* Scotland* Northern Ireland...

, outranked, among non-royals, only by the Archbishops of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. In his role as head of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop leads the third largest group...

 and York
Archbishop of York
The Archbishop of York is a high-ranking cleric in the Church of England, second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of York and metropolitan of the Province of York, which covers the northern portion of England as well as the Isle of Man...

, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
The Moderator of the General Assembly of Church of Scotland is a Minister, Elder or Deacon of the Church of Scotland chosen to "moderate" the annual General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which is held for a week in Edinburgh every May....

 and the Lord Chancellor
Lord Chancellor
The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, or Lord Chancellor, is a senior and important functionary in the government of the United Kingdom. He is the second highest ranking of the Great Officers of State, ranking only after the Lord High Steward. The Lord Chancellor is appointed by the Sovereign...

.

The first Act of Parliament—albeit in a schedule—to mention the Premiership was the Chequers Estate Act
Chequers Estate Act 1917
The Chequers Estate Act 1917 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that designates Chequers as the official country residence of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom...

 on 20 December 1917. This law conferred the Chequers
Chequers
Chequers, or Chequers Court, is a country house near Ellesborough, to the south of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, England, at the foot of the Chiltern Hills...

 Estate owned by Sir Arthur
Arthur Lee, 1st Viscount Lee of Fareham
Arthur Hamilton Lee, 1st Viscount Lee of Fareham, GCB, GBE, GCSI, PC was a British soldier, diplomat, politician and patron of the arts. After military postings and an assignment to the British Embassy in Washington, he entered politics and served as Minster of Agriculture and Fisheries and First...

 and Lady Lee, as a gift to the Crown for use as a country home for future Prime Ministers.

Unequivocal legal recognition was given in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1937
Ministers of the Crown Act 1937
The Ministers of the Crown Act 1937 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that set salaries for members of the Government and Opposition. It is notable as the first Act to formally recognise the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Cabinet.-Act:The Act set out salaries for...

, which made provision for paying a salary to the person who is both "the First Lord of the Treasury and Prime Minister". Explicitly recognising two hundred years' of ambivalence, the act states that it intended "To give statutory recognition to the existence of the position of Prime Minister, and to the historic link between the Premiership and the office of First Lord of the Treasury, by providing in respect to that position and office a salary of ..." The Act made a distinction between the "position" (Prime Minister) and the "office" (First Lord of the Treasury), emphasising the unique political character of the former. Nevertheless, the brass plate on the door of the Prime Minister's home, 10 Downing Street
10 Downing Street
10 Downing Street, colloquially known in the United Kingdom as "Number 10", is the headquarters of Her Majesty's Government and the official residence and office of the First Lord of the Treasury, who is now always the Prime Minister....

, still bears the title of "First Lord of the Treasury", as it has since the 18th century.

Emergence of Cabinet government


Despite the reluctance to legally recognise the Premiership, ambivalence toward it waned in the 1780s. As noted previously, George III (1760–1820) is known to have attended only two Cabinet meetings. However, during the first twenty years of his reign, he tried to be his own "prime minister" by controlling policy from outside the Cabinet, appointing and dismissing ministers, meeting privately with individual ministers, and giving them instructions. These practices caused confusion and dissension in Cabinet meetings, especially during the dysfunctional ministries of the Earl of Chatham from 1766–1768 and of the Duke of Grafton from 1768-1770 when no one, not even the King, seemed to be in charge.

After the failure of Lord North's ministry (1770–1782) in March 1782 due to Britain's defeat in the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

 and the ensuing vote of no confidence by Parliament, the Marquess of Rockingham
Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham
Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, KG, PC , styled The Hon. Charles Watson-Wentworth before 1733, Viscount Higham between 1733 and 1746, Earl of Malton between 1746 and 1750 and The Earl Malton in 1750, was a British Whig statesman, most notable for his two terms as Prime...

 reasserted the Prime Minister's control over the Cabinet. Rockingham assumed the Premiership "on the distinct understanding that measures were to be changed as well as men; and that the measures for which the new ministry required the royal consent were the measures which they, while in opposition, had advocated." He and his Cabinet were united in their policies and would stand or fall together; they also refused to accept anyone in the Cabinet who did not agree.This event also marks the beginnings of collective Cabinet responsibility. This principle states that the decisions made by any one Cabinet member become the responsibility of the entire Cabinet. King George threatened to abdicate but in the end reluctantly agreed out of necessity: he had to have a government.

From this time, there was a growing acceptance of the position of Prime Minister and the title was more commonly used, if only unofficially. Associated initially with the Whigs, even the Tories started to accept it. Lord North, for example, who had said the office was "unknown to the constitution", reversed himself in 1783 when he said, "In this country some one man or some body of men like a Cabinet should govern the whole and direct every measure." In 1803, William Pitt the Younger
William Pitt the Younger
William Pitt the Younger was a British politician of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He became the youngest Prime Minister in 1783 at the age of 24 . He left office in 1801, but was Prime Minister again from 1804 until his death in 1806...

, also a Tory, suggested to a friend that "this person generally called the first minister" was an absolute necessity for a government to function, and expressed his belief that this person should be the minister in charge of the finances.
The Tories' wholesale conversion started when Pitt was confirmed as Prime Minister in the election of 1784. For the next 17 years until 1801 (and again from 1804 to 1806), Pitt, the Tory, was Prime Minister in the same sense that Walpole, the Whig, had been earlier.

Their conversion was reinforced after 1810. In that year, George III, who had suffered periodically from mental instability (due to a blood disorder now known as porphyria
Porphyria
Porphyrias are a group of inherited or acquired disorders of certain enzymes in the heme bio-synthetic pathway . They are broadly classified as acute porphyrias and cutaneous porphyrias, based on the site of the overproduction and accumulation of the porphyrins...

), became permanently insane and spent the remaining 10 years of his life unable to discharge his duties. The Prince Regent
Prince Regent
A prince regent is a prince who rules a monarchy as regent instead of a monarch, e.g., due to the Sovereign's incapacity or absence ....

 was prevented from using the full powers of Kingship. The Regent became George IV
George IV of the United Kingdom
George IV was the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and also of Hanover from the death of his father, George III, on 29 January 1820 until his own death ten years later...

 in 1820, but during his 10 year reign was indolent and frivolous. Consequently, for 20 years the throne was virtually vacant and Tory Cabinets led by Tory Prime Ministers filled the void, governing virtually on their own.

The Tories were in power for almost 50 years, except for a short Whig ministry from 1806 to 1807. Lord Liverpool was Prime Minister for 15 years; he and Pitt held the position for 34 years. Under their long, consistent leadership, Cabinet government became a convention of the constitution. Although subtle issues remained to be settled, the Cabinet system of government is essentially the same today as it was in 1830.

Under this form of government, called the Westminster System
Westminster System
The Westminster system is a democratic parliamentary system of government modelled after the politics of the United Kingdom. This term comes from the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the Parliament of the United Kingdom....

, the Sovereign is Head of State
Head of State
A head of state is the individual that serves as the chief public representative of a monarchy, republic, federation, commonwealth or other kind of state. His or her role generally includes legitimizing the state and exercising the political powers, functions, and duties granted to the head of...

 and titular head of Her Majesty's Government. She selects as her Prime Minister the person who is able to command a working majority in the House of Commons, and invites him to form a government. As the actual Head of Government
Head of government
Head of government is the chief officer of the executive branch of a government, often presiding over a cabinet. In a parliamentary system, the head of government is often styled prime minister, chief minister, premier, etc...

, the Prime Minister selects his Cabinet, choosing its members from among those in Parliament who agree or generally agree with his intended policies. He then recommends them to the Sovereign who confirms his selections by formally appointing them to their respective offices. Led by the Prime Minister, the Cabinet is collectively responsible for everything the government does. The Sovereign does not confer with its members privately about policy or attend its meetings. With respect to actual governance, the monarch has only three constitutional rights: to be kept informed, to advise, and to warn. In practice this means that the Sovereign reviews state papers and meets regularly with the Prime Minister, usually weekly, when she may advise and warn him regarding the proposed decisions and actions of Her Government.

Loyal Opposition

The modern British system includes not only a government formed by the majority party (or coalition of parties) in the House of Commons but also an organised and open opposition formed by those who are not members of the governing party. Called the Loyal Opposition
Loyal opposition
In parliamentary systems of government, the term loyal opposition is applied to the opposition parties in the legislature to indicate that the non-governing parties may oppose the actions of the sitting cabinet typically comprising parliamentarians from the party with the most seats in the elected...

 (or "Her Majesty's Opposition"), they occupy the benches to the Speaker's left. Seated in the front, directly across from the ministers on the Treasury Bench, the leaders of the opposition form a "Shadow Government", complete with a salaried "Shadow Prime Minister", the Leader of the Opposition
Leader of the Opposition
The Leader of the Opposition is a title traditionally held by the leader of the largest party not in government in a Westminster System of parliamentary government...

, ready to assume office if the government falls or loses the next election.

Opposing the King's government was considered disloyal, even treasonous, at the end of the 17th century. During the 18th century this idea waned and finally disappeared as the two party system developed. The expression "His Majesty's Opposition" was coined by John Cam Hobhouse, Lord Broughton. In 1826, Broughton, a Whig, announced in the Commons that he opposed the report of a Bill. As a joke, he said, "It was said to be very hard on His Majesty's ministers to raise objections to this proposition. For my part, I think it is much more hard on His Majesty's Opposition to compel them to take this course." The phrase caught on and has been used ever since. Sometimes translated as the "Loyal Opposition
Loyal opposition
In parliamentary systems of government, the term loyal opposition is applied to the opposition parties in the legislature to indicate that the non-governing parties may oppose the actions of the sitting cabinet typically comprising parliamentarians from the party with the most seats in the elected...

", it acknowledges the legitimate existence of the two party system, and describes an important constitutional concept: opposing the government is not treason; reasonable men can honestly oppose its policies and still be loyal to the Sovereign and the nation.

Informally recognised for over a century as a convention of the constitution, the position of Leader of the Opposition was given statutory recognition in 1937 by the Ministers of the Crown Act
Ministers of the Crown Act 1937
The Ministers of the Crown Act 1937 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that set salaries for members of the Government and Opposition. It is notable as the first Act to formally recognise the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Cabinet.-Act:The Act set out salaries for...

.

Great Reform Bill and the Premiership

British Prime Ministers have never been elected directly by the public. They have all become Prime Minister indirectly because firstly, they were members of either the Commons or Lords; secondly, they were the leader of a great political party; and, thirdly, they either inherited a majority in the Commons, or won more seats than the opposition in a general election.

Since 1722, most Prime Ministers have been members of the Commons; since 1902, all have had a seat there.Except Lord Home
Alec Douglas-Home
Alexander Frederick Douglas-Home, Baron Home of the Hirsel, KT, PC , known as The Earl of Home from 1951 to 1963 and as Sir Alec Douglas-Home from 1963 to 1974, was a British Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from October 1963 to October 1964.He is the last...

, who resigned his peerage to stand in a by-election soon after becoming Prime Minister
Like other members, they are elected initially to represent only a constituency. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

, for example, represented Sedgefield
Sedgefield (UK Parliament constituency)
Sedgefield is a county constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament by the first past the post system of election...

 in County Durham from 1983 to 2007. He became Prime Minister because in 1994 he was elected Labour Party leader and then led the party to victory in the 1997 general election
United Kingdom general election, 1997
The United Kingdom general election, 1997 was held on 1 May 1997, more than five years after the previous election on 9 April 1992, to elect 659 members to the British House of Commons. The Labour Party ended its 18 years in opposition under the leadership of Tony Blair, and won the general...

, winning 418 seats compared to 165 for the Conservatives and gaining a majority in the House of Commons.

Neither the Sovereign nor the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

 had any meaningful influence over who was elected to the Commons in 1997 or in deciding whether or not Blair would become Prime Minister. Their detachment from the electoral process and the selection of the Prime Minister has been a convention of the constitution for almost 200 years.

Prior to the 19th century, however, they had significant influence, using to their advantage the fact that most citizens were disenfranchised and seats in the Commons were allocated disproportionately. The system was based on legislation passed in 1429 and virtually unchanged for 400 years. In 1832, only 440,000 met the voter qualifications in a population of 17 million. Although populations shifted, representation in the Commons remained the same. Consequently, some constituencies were over-represented; others under-represented. Through patronage, corruption and bribery, the Crown and Lords "owned" about 30% of the seats (called "pocket" or "rotten boroughs") giving them a significant influence in the Commons and in the selection of the Prime Minister.

In 1830, Charles Grey
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, KG, PC , known as Viscount Howick between 1806 and 1807, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 22 November 1830 to 16 July 1834. A member of the Whig Party, he backed significant reform of the British government and was among the...

, a life-long Whig, became Prime Minister determined to reform the electoral system. For two years, he and his Cabinet (including four future Prime Ministers – Melbourne
William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne
William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, PC, FRS was a British Whig statesman who served as Home Secretary and Prime Minister . He is best known for his intense and successful mentoring of Queen Victoria, at ages 18-21, in the ways of politics...

, Russell
John Russell, 1st Earl Russell
John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, KG, GCMG, PC , known as Lord John Russell before 1861, was an English Whig and Liberal politician who served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the mid-19th century....

, Palmerston
Henry Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston
Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, KG, GCB, PC , known popularly as Lord Palmerston, was a British statesman who served twice as Prime Minister in the mid-19th century...

 and Derby
Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby
Edward George Geoffrey Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, KG, PC was an English statesman, three times Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and to date the longest serving leader of the Conservative Party. He was known before 1834 as Edward Stanley, and from 1834 to 1851 as Lord Stanley...

 – and one former one, Goderich
Frederick John Robinson, 1st Viscount Goderich
Frederick John Robinson, 1st Earl of Ripon PC , styled The Honourable F. J. Robinson until 1827 and known as The Viscount Goderich between 1827 and 1833, the name by which he is best known to history, was a British statesman...

) fought to pass what has come to be known as the Great Reform Bill of 1832
Reform Act 1832
The Representation of the People Act 1832 was an Act of Parliament that introduced wide-ranging changes to the electoral system of England and Wales...

.

The greatness of the Great Reform Bill lay less in substance than symbolism. As John Bright, the liberal statesman of the next generation, said, "It was not a good Bill, but it was a great Bill when it passed."

Substantively, it increased the franchise 65% to 717,000 with the middle class receiving most of the new votes. The representation of 56 rotten boroughs was eliminated completely and half the representation of 30 others; the freed up seats were distributed to boroughs created for previously disenfranchised areas. However, many rotten boroughs remained and it still excluded millions of working class men and all women.

Symbolically, the Bill exceeded expectations and is now ranked with Magna Carta
Magna Carta
Magna Carta is an English charter, originally issued in the year 1215 and reissued later in the 13th century in modified versions, which included the most direct challenges to the monarch's authority to date. The charter first passed into law in 1225...

 and the Bill of Rights
Bill of Rights 1689
The Bill of Rights or the Bill of Rights 1688 is an Act of the Parliament of England.The Bill of Rights was passed by Parliament on 16 December 1689. It was a re-statement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right presented by the Convention Parliament to William and Mary in March 1689 ,...

 as one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed by Parliament.

First, the Great Reform Bill removed the Sovereign from the election process and the choice of Prime Minister. Slowly evolving for 100 years, this convention was confirmed two years after the passage of the bill. In 1834 King William IV dismissed Melbourne as Premier, but was forced to recall him when Robert Peel
Robert Peel
Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet was a British Conservative statesman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 10 December 1834 to 8 April 1835, and again from 30 August 1841 to 29 June 1846...

, the King's choice, could not form a working majority. Since then, no Sovereign has tried to impose a Prime Minister on Parliament.

Second, the Bill reduced the Lords' power by eliminating many of their pocket boroughs and creating new ones where they had no influence. Weakened, they were unable to prevent the passage of more comprehensive electoral reforms in 1867, 1884, 1918 and 1928 when universal equal suffrage was achieved.
Ultimately, this erosion of power led to the Parliament Act of 1911 that marginalised the Lords' role in the legislative process and to the convention that a Prime Minister cannot sit in the House of Lords. The last to do so was Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury
Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury
Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, KG, GCVO, PC , styled Lord Robert Cecil before 1865 and Viscount Cranborne from June 1865 until April 1868, was a British Conservative statesman and thrice Prime Minister, serving for a total of over 13 years...

, from 1895 to 1902.The last Prime Minister to be a member of the Lords during any part of his tenure was Alec Douglas-Home, 14th Earl of Home in 1963. Lord Home was the last Prime Minister who was a hereditary peer, but, within days of attaining office, he disclaimed his peerage, abiding by the convention that the Prime Minister should sit in the House of Commons. A junior member of his Conservative Party who had already been selected as candidate in a by-election
Kinross and West Perthshire by-election, 1963
The Kinross and West Perthshire by-election of 7 November 1963 was a by-election to the House of Commons. It was unique among by-elections since 1918 in that one of the candidates was the sitting Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home; he had been nominated for the constituency after disclaiming a...

 in a staunch Conservative seat stood aside, allowing Home to contest the by-election, win and thus procure a seat in the lower House.


Grey's bearing changed the Premiership. Often called the first "modern Prime Minister", he set both an example and a precedent for his successors. He was primus inter pares, "first among equals", as Bagehot said in 1867 of the Prime Minister's status. Using his Whig victory as a mandate for reform, Grey was unrelenting in the pursuit of this goal, using every Parliamentary device to achieve it. Although respectful toward the King, he made it clear that his constitutional duty was to acquiesce to the will of the people and Parliament.

The Loyal Opposition acquiesced too. Some disgruntled Tories claimed they would repeal the Bill once they regained a majority. But in 1834, Robert Peel, the new Conservative leader, put an end to this threat when he stated in his Tamworth Manifesto
Tamworth Manifesto
The Tamworth Manifesto was a political manifesto issued by Sir Robert Peel in 1834 in Tamworth, which is widely credited by historians as having laid down the principles upon which the modern British Conservative Party is based....

 that the Bill was "a final and irrevocable settlement of a great constitutional question which no friend to the peace and welfare of this country would attempt to disturb". Thus, Peel affirmed a convention of the constitution that promotes stability in the British system: the Parliament of the day must respect the settlement of constitutional issues made by previous Parliaments.

Populist Prime Ministers

The Premiership was a reclusive office prior to 1832. The incumbent worked with his Cabinet and other government officials; he occasionally met with the Sovereign, and attended Parliament when it was in session during the spring and summer. He never went out on the stump to campaign, even during elections; he rarely spoke directly to ordinary voters about policies and issues.

After the passage of the Great Reform Bill, the nature of the position changed; Prime Ministers had to go out among the people. The Bill increased the electorate to 717,000. Subsequent legislation (and population growth) raised it to 2 million in 1867, 5.5 million in 1884 and 21.4 million in 1918. As the franchise increased, power shifted to the people and Prime Ministers assumed more responsibilities with respect to party leadership. It naturally fell on them to motivate and organise their followers, explain party policies, and deliver its "message". Successful leaders had to have a new set of skills: to give a good speech, present a favourable image, and interact with a crowd. They became the "voice", the “face” and the "image" of the party and ministry.

Robert Peel, often called the "model Prime Minister", was the first to recognise this new role. After the successful Conservative campaign of 1841, J. W. Croker said in a letter to Peel, "The elections are wonderful, and the curiosity is that all turns on the name of Sir Robert Peel. 'It's the first time that I remember in our history that the people have chosen the first Minister for the Sovereign. Mr. Pitt's case in '84 is the nearest analogy; but then the people only confirmed the Sovereign's choice; here every Conservative candidate professed himself in plain words to be Sir Robert Peel's man, and on that ground was elected."

Benjamin Disraeli and William Ewart Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone FRS FSS was a British Liberal statesman. In a career lasting over sixty years, he served as Prime Minister four separate times , more than any other person. Gladstone was also Britain's oldest Prime Minister, 84 years old when he resigned for the last time...

 developed this new role further by projecting "images" of themselves to the public. Known by their nicknames "Dizzy" and the "Grand Old Man", their colourful, sometimes bitter, personal and political rivalry over the issues of their time – Imperialism vs. Anti-Imperialism, expansion of the franchise, labour reform, and Irish Home Rule – spanned almost twenty years until Disraeli's death in 1881.Even after death their rivalry continued. When Disraeli died in 1881, Gladstone proposed a state funeral, but Disraeli's will specified that he have a private funeral and be buried next to his wife. Gladstone replied, "As [Disraeli] lived, so he died — all display, without reality or genuineness." Disraeli, for his part, once said that GOM (the acronym for "Grand Old Man"), really stood for "God's Only Mistake". Documented by the penny press, photographs and political cartoons, their rivalry linked specific personalities with the Premiership in the public mind and further enhanced its status.

Each created a different public image of himself and his party. Disraeli, who expanded the Empire to protect British interests abroad, cultivated the image of himself (and the Conservative Party) as "Imperialist", making grand gestures such as conferring the title "Empress of India" on Queen Victoria in 1876. Gladstone, who saw little value in the Empire, proposed an anti-Imperialist policy (later called "Little England"), and cultivated the image of himself (and the Liberal Party) as "man of the people" by circulating pictures of himself cutting down great oak trees with an axe as a hobby.

Gladstone went beyond image by appealing directly to the people. In his Midlothian Campaign
Midlothian campaign
The Midlothian campaign was a series of foreign policy speeches given by William Ewart Gladstone. It is often cited as the first modern political campaign. It also set the stage for Gladstone's comeback as a politician...

 – so called because he stood as a candidate for that county – Gladstone spoke in fields, halls and railway stations to hundreds, sometimes thousands, of students, farmers, labourers and middle class workers. Although not the first leader to speak directly to voters – both he and Disraeli had spoken directly to party loyalists before on special occasions – he was the first to canvass an entire constituency delivering his message to anyone who would listen, encouraging his supporters and trying to convert his opponents. Publicised nationwide, Gladstone's message became that of the party. Noting its significance, Lord Shaftesbury
Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury
Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury KG , styled Lord Ashley from 1811 to 1851, was an English politician and philanthropist, one of the best-known of the Victorian era and one of the main proponents of Christian Zionism.-Youth:He was born in London and known informally as Lord Ashley...

 said, "It is a new thing and a very serious thing to see the Prime Minister on the stump."

Campaigning directly to the people became commonplace. Several 20th century Prime Ministers, such as David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor OM, PC was a British Liberal politician and statesman...

 and Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

, were famous for their oratorical skills. After the introduction of radio, motion pictures, television, and the internet, many used these technologies to project their public image and address the nation. Stanley Baldwin
Stanley Baldwin
Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, KG, PC was a British Conservative politician, who dominated the government in his country between the two world wars...

, a master of the radio broadcast in the 1920s and 1930s, reached a national audience in his talks filled with homely advice and simple expressions of national pride. Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 also used the radio to great effect, inspiring, reassuring and informing the people with his speeches during the Second World War. Two recent Prime Ministers, Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

 and Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

, achieved celebrity status, like rock stars but have been criticised for their more 'presidential' style of leadership.. According to Anthony King
Anthony King (professor)
Professor Anthony King is a Canadian-born professor of government in the United Kingdom at Essex University, psephologist and commentator....

, ""The props in Blair's theatre of celebrity included ... his guitar, his casual clothes ... footballs bounced skilfully off the top of his head ... and carefully choreographed speeches-cum-performances at Labour Party conferences."

Parliament Act and the Premiership

In addition to being the leader of a great political party and the head of Her Majesty's Government, the modern Prime Minister is the leader of the House of Commons. From this commanding position, the Prime Minister directs the law-making process, enacting into law his party’s programme. For example, Tony Blair, whose Labour party was elected in 1997 partly on a promise to enact a British Bill of Rights and to create devolved governments for Scotland and Wales, subsequently stewarded through Parliament the Human Rights Act (1998), the Scotland Act (1998) and the Government of Wales Act (1998).

From its appearance in the 14th century Parliament has been a bicameral legislature consisting of the Commons and the Lords. Members of the Commons are elected; those in the Lords are not. Most Lords are called "Temporal" with titles such as Duke, Marquess, Earl and Viscount. The balance are Lords Spiritual (prelates of the Anglican Church).

For most of the history of the Upper House, Lords Temporal were land owners who held their estates, titles and seats as an hereditary right passed down from one generation to the next in some cases for centuries. In 1910, for example, there were nineteen whose title was created before 1500.Following a series of reforms in the 20th century the Lords now consists almost entirely of appointed members who hold their title only for their own lifetime. As of July 2008 the Lords had 746 members, compared to 646 in the Commons.

Until 1911, Prime Ministers had to guide legislation through the Commons and the Lords and obtain a majority approval in both to translate it into law. This was not always easy because political differences usually separated the chambers. Representing the landed aristocracy, Lords Temporal were generally Tory (later Conservative) who wanted to maintain the status quo and resisted progressive measures such as extending the franchise. The party affiliation of members of the Commons was less predictable. During the 18th century its makeup varied because the Lords had considerable control over elections: sometimes Whigs dominated it, sometimes Tories. After the passage of the Great Reform Bill in 1832, the Commons gradually became more progressive, a tendency that increased with the passage of each subsequent expansion of the franchise.

In 1906, the Liberal party, led by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Henry Campbell-Bannerman
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman GCB was a British Liberal Party politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1905 to 1908 and Leader of the Liberal Party from 1899 to 1908. He also served as Secretary of State for War twice, in the Cabinets of Gladstone and Rosebery...

, won an overwhelming victory on a platform that promised social reforms for the working class. With 379 seats compared to the Conservatives' 132, the Liberals could confidently expect to pass their legislative programme through the Commons. At the same time, however, the Conservative Party had a huge majority in the Lords; it could easily veto any legislation passed by the Commons that was against their interests.

For five years, the Commons and the Lords fought over one bill after another. The Liberals pushed through parts of their programme, but the Conservatives vetoed or modified others. When the Lords vetoed the "People's Budget" in 1909, the controversy moved almost inevitably toward a constitutional crisis.

In 1910, Prime Minister Herbert AsquithCampbell-Bannerman retired and died in 1908 introduced a bill "for regulating the relations between the Houses of Parliament" which would eliminate the Lords' veto power over legislation. Passed by the Commons, the Lords rejected it. In a general election fought on this issue, the Liberals were weakened but still had a comfortable majority. At Asquith's request, King George V
George V of the United Kingdom
George V was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from 6 May 1910 through the First World War until his death in 1936....

 then threatened to create a sufficient number of new Liberal Peers to ensure the bill's passage. Rather than accept a permanent Liberal majority, the Conservative Lords yielded, and the bill became law.

The Parliament Act 1911
Parliament Act 1911
The Parliament Act 1911 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is constitutionally important and partly governs the relationship between the House of Commons and the House of Lords which make up the Houses of Parliament. This Act must be construed as one with the Parliament Act 1949...

 established the supremacy of the Commons. It provided that the Lords could not delay for more than one month any bill certified by the Speaker of the Commons as a money bill. Furthermore, the act provided that any bill rejected by the Lords would nevertheless become law if passed by the Commons in three successive sessions provided that two years had elapsed since its original passage. The Lords could still delay or suspend the enactment of legislation but could no longer veto it. Subsequently the Lords “suspending” power was reduced to one year by the Parliament Act 1949
Parliament Act 1949
The Parliament Act 1949 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.This Act must be construed as one with the Parliament Act 1911...

.

Indirectly, the Act enhanced the already dominant position of Prime Minister in the constitutional hierarchy. Although the Lords are still involved in the legislative process and the Prime Minister must still guide legislation through both Houses, the Lords no longer have the power to veto or even delay enactment of legislation passed by the Commons. Provided that he controls the Cabinet, maintains party discipline, and commands a majority in the Commons, the Prime Minister is assured of putting through his legislative agenda.

"Presidential" Premiership

The role and power of the Prime Minister have been subject to much change in the last fifty years. There has gradually been a change from Cabinet decision making and deliberation to the dominance of the Prime Minister. As early as 1965, in a new introduction to Walter Bagehot
Walter Bagehot
Walter Bagehot was an English businessman, essayist, and journalist who wrote extensively about literature, government, and economic affairs.-Early years:...

's classic work The English Constitution
The English Constitution
The English Constitution is a book by Walter Bagehot. Written in 1867, it explores the constitution of the United Kingdom, specifically the functioning of Parliament and the British monarchy and the contrasts between British and American government...

, Richard Crossman
Richard Crossman
Richard Howard Stafford Crossman OBE was a British author and Labour Party politician who was a Cabinet Minister under Harold Wilson, and was the editor of the New Statesman. A prominent socialist intellectual, he became one of the Labour Party's leading Zionists and anti-communists...

 identified a new era of "Prime Ministerial" government. Some commentators, such as the political scientist Michael Foley, have argued there is a de facto "British Presidency". In Tony Blair's government, many sources such as former ministers have suggested that decision-making was centred around him and Gordon Brown, and the Cabinet was no longer used for decision making. Former ministers such as Clare Short
Clare Short
Clare Short is a British politician, and a member of the Labour Party. She was the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood from 1983 to 2010; for most of this period she was a Labour Party MP, but she resigned the party whip in 2006 and served the remainder of her term as an Independent. She...

 and Chris Smith
Chris Smith, Baron Smith of Finsbury
Christopher "Chris" Robert Smith, Baron Smith of Finsbury PC is a British Labour Party politician, and a former Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister...

 have criticised the lack of decision-making power in Cabinet. When she resigned, Short denounced "the centralisation of power into the hands of the Prime Minister and an increasingly small number of advisers" The Butler Review
Butler Review
On February 3, 2004, the British Government announced an inquiry into the intelligence relating to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction which played a key part in the Government's decision to invade Iraq in 2003. A similar investigation was set up in the USA...

 of 2004 condemned Blair's style of "sofa government".
Prime Ministers may dominate the Cabinet so much that they become "Semi-Presidents". Examples include William Ewart Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone FRS FSS was a British Liberal statesman. In a career lasting over sixty years, he served as Prime Minister four separate times , more than any other person. Gladstone was also Britain's oldest Prime Minister, 84 years old when he resigned for the last time...

, David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor OM, PC was a British Liberal politician and statesman...

, Neville Chamberlain
Neville Chamberlain
Arthur Neville Chamberlain FRS was a British Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from May 1937 to May 1940. Chamberlain is best known for his appeasement foreign policy, and in particular for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938, conceding the...

, Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

, Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

, and Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

. The powers of some Prime Ministers waxed or waned, depending upon their own level of energy, political skills or outside events: Ramsay MacDonald
Ramsay MacDonald
James Ramsay MacDonald, PC, FRS was a British politician who was the first ever Labour Prime Minister, leading a minority government for two terms....

, for example, was dominant in his Labour governments, but during his National Government
UK National Government
In the United Kingdom the term National Government is an abstract concept referring to a coalition of some or all major political parties. In a historical sense it usually refers primarily to the governments of Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain which held office from 1931...

 his powers diminished so that he was merely the figurehead of the government. In modern times, Prime Ministers have never been merely titular; dominant or somewhat dominant personalities are the norm.

Generally, however, the Prime Minister is held responsible by the nation for the consequences of legislation or of general government policy – indeed, this heavy burden has pictured as ageing Prime Ministers at two or three times the normal rate. Margaret Thatcher's party forced her from power after the introduction of the poll tax
Community Charge
The Community Charge, popularly known as the "poll tax", was a system of taxation introduced in replacement of the rates to part fund local government in Scotland from 1989, and England and Wales from 1990. It provided for a single flat-rate per-capita tax on every adult, at a rate set by the...

; Sir Anthony Eden
Anthony Eden
Robert Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon, KG, MC, PC was a British Conservative politician, who was Prime Minister from 1955 to 1957...

 fell from power following the Suez Crisis
Suez Crisis
The Suez Crisis, also referred to as the Tripartite Aggression, Suez War was an offensive war fought by France, the United Kingdom, and Israel against Egypt beginning on 29 October 1956. Less than a day after Israel invaded Egypt, Britain and France issued a joint ultimatum to Egypt and Israel,...

; and Neville Chamberlain resigned in 1940 after the Allies were forced to retreat from Norway, as he believed a government supported by all parties was essential, and the Labour and Liberal parties would not join a government headed by him.

The Prime Minister's powers are also limited by the House of Commons, whose support the Government is obliged to maintain. The Commons checks the powers of the Prime Minister through committee hearings and through Question Time
Question Time
Question time in a parliament occurs when members of the parliament ask questions of government ministers , which they are obliged to answer. It usually occurs daily while parliament is sitting, though it can be cancelled in exceptional circumstances...

, a weekly occurrence in which the Prime Minister is obliged to respond to the questions of the Leader of the Opposition and other members of the House. In practice, however, a Government with a strong majority need rarely fear "backbench rebellions".

Powers and constraints

When commissioned by the Sovereign, a potential Prime Minister's first requisite is to "form a Government" – create a cabinet of ministry that has the support of the House of Commons, of which they are expected to be a member. The Prime Minister then formally kisses the hands of his Sovereign, whose royal prerogative is thereafter exercised solely on the advice of the Prime Minister and Her Majesty's Government ("HMG"). The Prime Minister has weekly audiences with the Sovereign, whose functions are constitutionally limited "to advise, to be consulted, and to warn"; the extent of the Sovereign's ability to influence the nature of the Prime Ministerial advice is unknown, but presumably varies depending upon the personal relationship between the Sovereign and the Prime Minister of the day.

The Prime Minister will appoint all other cabinet members (who then become active Privy Counsellors) and ministers, although consulting senior ministers on their junior ministers, without any Parliamentary or other control or process over these powers. At any time, he may obtain the appointment, dismissal or nominal resignation of any other minister; he may resign, either purely personally or with his whole government. The Prime Minister generally co-ordinates the policies and activities of the Cabinet and Government departments, acting as the main public "face" of Her Majesty's Government.

Although the Commander-in-Chief
Commander-in-Chief
A commander-in-chief is the commander of a nation's military forces or significant element of those forces. In the latter case, the force element may be defined as those forces within a particular region or those forces which are associated by function. As a practical term it refers to the military...

 of the British Armed Forces
British Armed Forces
The British Armed Forces are the armed forces of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.Also known as Her Majesty's Armed Forces and sometimes legally the Armed Forces of the Crown, the British Armed Forces encompasses three professional uniformed services, the Royal Navy, the...

 is legally the Sovereign, under constitutional practice the Prime Minister, with the Secretary of State for Defence whom he may appoint or dismiss, holds power over the deployment and disposition of British forces, and the declaration of war. The Prime Minister can authorise, but not directly order, the use of Britain's nuclear weapons
Nuclear weapons and the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom was the third country to test an independently developed nuclear weapon, in October 1952. It is one of the five "Nuclear Weapons States" under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the UK ratified in 1968...

 and the Prime Minister is hence a Commander-in-Chief in all but name.

The Prime Minister makes all the most senior Crown appointments, and most others are made by Ministers over whom he has the power of appointment and dismissal. Privy Counsellors
Privy Council of the United Kingdom
Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, usually known simply as the Privy Council, is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign in the United Kingdom...

, Ambassador
Ambassador
An ambassador is the highest ranking diplomat who represents a nation and is usually accredited to a foreign sovereign or government, or to an international organization....

s and High Commissioner
High Commissioner
High Commissioner is the title of various high-ranking, special executive positions held by a commission of appointment.The English term is also used to render various equivalent titles in other languages.-Bilateral diplomacy:...

s, senior civil servants, senior military officers, members of important committees and commissions, and other officials are selected, and in most cases may be removed, by the Prime Minister. He also formally advises the Sovereign on the appointment of Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

, but his discretion is limited by the existence of the Crown Nominations Commission. The appointment of senior judges, while constitutionally still on the advice of the Prime Minister, is now made on the basis of recommendations from independent bodies.

Peerages, knighthoods, and other honours are bestowed by the Sovereign only on the advice of the Prime Minister. The only important British honours over which the Prime Minister does not have control are the Orders of the Garter
Order of the Garter
The Most Noble Order of the Garter, founded in 1348, is the highest order of chivalry, or knighthood, existing in England. The order is dedicated to the image and arms of St...

, Thistle
Order of the Thistle
The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle is an order of chivalry associated with Scotland. The current version of the Order was founded in 1687 by King James VII of Scotland who asserted that he was reviving an earlier Order...

, and Merit
Order of Merit
The Order of Merit is a British dynastic order recognising distinguished service in the armed forces, science, art, literature, or for the promotion of culture...

; the Royal Victorian Order
Royal Victorian Order
The Royal Victorian Order is a dynastic order of knighthood and a house order of chivalry recognising distinguished personal service to the order's Sovereign, the reigning monarch of the Commonwealth realms, any members of her family, or any of her viceroys...

; and the Venerable Order of Saint John
Venerable Order of Saint John
The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem , is a royal order of chivalry established in 1831 and found today throughout the Commonwealth of Nations, Hong Kong, Ireland and the United States of America, with the world-wide mission "to prevent and relieve sickness and...

, which are all within the "personal gift" of the Sovereign.

The Prime Minister appoints Ministers known as the "Whips", who use his patronage to negotiate for the support of MPs and to discipline dissenters of the government parliamentary party. Party discipline is strong since electors generally vote for parties rather than individuals. Members of Parliament may be expelled from their party for failing to support the Government on important issues, and although this will not mean they must resign as MPs, it will usually make re-election difficult. Members of Parliament who hold ministerial office or political privileges can expect removal for failing to support the Prime Minister. Restraints imposed by the Commons grow weaker when the Government's party enjoys a large majority in that House, or in the electorate. In general, however, the Prime Minister and their colleagues may secure the Commons' support for almost any bill by internal party negotiations with little regard to opposition MPs.

However, even a government with a healthy majority can on occasion find itself unable to pass legislation. For example, on 31 January 2006, Tony Blair's Government was defeated over certain aspects of proposals to outlaw religious hatred, and, on 9 November 2005, was defeated over plans which would have allowed police to detain terror suspects for up to 90 days without charge. On other occasions, the Government alters its proposals in order to avoid defeat in the Commons, as Tony Blair's Government did in February 2006 over education reforms.

Formerly, a Prime Minister whose government lost a Commons vote would be regarded as fatally weakened, and his whole government would resign, usually precipitating a general election. In modern practice, when the Government party has an absolute majority in the House, only the express vote "that this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government" is treated as having this effect; dissentients on a minor issue within the majority party are unlikely to force an election with the probable loss of their seats and salaries, and any future in the party.

Likewise, a Prime Minister is no longer just "first amongst equals" in HM Government; although theoretically his Cabinet might still outvote him, in practice he progressively entrenches his position by retaining only personal supporters in the Cabinet. In periodical reshuffles, the Prime Minister can sideline and simply drop from Cabinet the Members who have fallen out of favour: they remain Privy Counsellors, but the Prime Minister decides which of them are summoned to meetings. The Prime Minister is responsible for producing and enforcing the Ministerial Code.

Precedence, privileges and form of address

By tradition, before a new Prime Minister can enter 10 Downing Street
10 Downing Street
10 Downing Street, colloquially known in the United Kingdom as "Number 10", is the headquarters of Her Majesty's Government and the official residence and office of the First Lord of the Treasury, who is now always the Prime Minister....

 for the first time as its occupant, they are required to announce to the country and the world that they have kissed hands with the reigning monarch, and thus have become Prime Minister. This is usually done by saying words to the effect of:
Throughout the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister outranks all other dignitaries except members of the Royal Family, the Lord Chancellor
Lord Chancellor
The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, or Lord Chancellor, is a senior and important functionary in the government of the United Kingdom. He is the second highest ranking of the Great Officers of State, ranking only after the Lord High Steward. The Lord Chancellor is appointed by the Sovereign...

, and senior ecclesiastical figures.These include: in England and Wales
England and Wales
England and Wales is a jurisdiction within the United Kingdom. It consists of England and Wales, two of the four countries of the United Kingdom...

, the Anglican
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

 Archbishops of Canterbury and York; in Scotland, the Lord High Commissioner and the Moderator of the General Assembly
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
The Moderator of the General Assembly of Church of Scotland is a Minister, Elder or Deacon of the Church of Scotland chosen to "moderate" the annual General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which is held for a week in Edinburgh every May....

 of the Church of Scotland
Church of Scotland
The Church of Scotland, known informally by its Scots language name, the Kirk, is a Presbyterian church, decisively shaped by the Scottish Reformation....

; in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

, the Anglican
Church of Ireland
The Church of Ireland is an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion. The church operates in all parts of Ireland and is the second largest religious body on the island after the Roman Catholic Church...

 and Roman Catholic Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin and the Moderator of the General Assembly
Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland
The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is the most senior office-bearer within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, which is Northern Ireland's largest Protestant denomination....

 of the Presbyterian Church
Presbyterian Church in Ireland
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland , is the largest Presbyterian denomination in Ireland, and the largest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland...

.


At present the Prime Minister receives £142,500 including a salary of £65,737 as a Member of Parliament. Until 2006, the Lord Chancellor
Lord Chancellor
The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, or Lord Chancellor, is a senior and important functionary in the government of the United Kingdom. He is the second highest ranking of the Great Officers of State, ranking only after the Lord High Steward. The Lord Chancellor is appointed by the Sovereign...

 was the highest paid member of the government ahead of the Prime Minister. This reflected the Lord Chancellor's position as head of the judicial pay scale. The Constitutional Reform Act 2005
Constitutional Reform Act 2005
The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It provided for a Supreme Court of the United Kingdom to take over the existing role of the Law Lords as well as some powers of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and removed the functions of Speaker of...

 eliminated the Lord Chancellor's judicial functions and also reduced the office's salary below that of the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister is customarily a member of the Privy Council and thus entitled to the appellation "The Right Honourable
The Right Honourable
The Right Honourable is an honorific prefix that is traditionally applied to certain people in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Anglophone Caribbean and other Commonwealth Realms, and occasionally elsewhere...

". Membership of the Council is retained for life. It is a constitutional convention that only a Privy Counsellor can be appointed Prime Minister. Most potential candidates have already attained this status. The only occasion when a non-Privy Counsellor was the natural appointment was Ramsay MacDonald in 1924. The issue was resolved by appointing him to the Council immediately prior to his appointment as Prime Minister.

According to the now defunct Department for Constitutional Affairs
Department for Constitutional Affairs
The Department for Constitutional Affairs was a United Kingdom government department. Its creation was announced on 12 June 2003 with the intention of replacing the Lord Chancellor's Department...

, the Prime Minister is made a Privy Counsellor as a result of taking office and should be addressed by the official title prefixed by "The Right Honourable" and not by a personal name. Although this form of address is employed at formal occasions it is rarely used by the media. Since "Prime Minister" is a position, not a title, the incumbent should be referred to as "the Prime Minister". The title "Prime Minister" (e.g. "Prime Minister David Cameron") is technically incorrect but is sometimes used erroneously outside the United Kingdom, and has more recently become acceptable within it. Within the UK, the expression "Prime Minister Cameron" (or "Prime Minister Brown", etc.) is never used, although it, too, is sometimes used by foreign dignitaries and news sources.

While in office, the Prime Minister officially resides at 10 Downing Street
10 Downing Street
10 Downing Street, colloquially known in the United Kingdom as "Number 10", is the headquarters of Her Majesty's Government and the official residence and office of the First Lord of the Treasury, who is now always the Prime Minister....

 in London and is also entitled to use the country house of Chequers
Chequers
Chequers, or Chequers Court, is a country house near Ellesborough, to the south of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, England, at the foot of the Chiltern Hills...

 in Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan home county in South East England. The county town is Aylesbury, the largest town in the ceremonial county is Milton Keynes and largest town in the non-metropolitan county is High Wycombe....

.

Upon retirement, it is customary for the Sovereign to grant a Prime Minister some honour or dignity. The honour commonly, but not invariably, bestowed is membership of the United Kingdom's most senior order of chivalry, the Order of the Garter
Order of the Garter
The Most Noble Order of the Garter, founded in 1348, is the highest order of chivalry, or knighthood, existing in England. The order is dedicated to the image and arms of St...

. The practice of creating retired Prime Ministers Knights (or, in the case of Margaret Thatcher, Ladies) of the Garter has been fairly prevalent since the middle-19th century. On the retirement of a Prime Minister who is Scottish, it is likely that the primarily Scottish honour of the Order of the Thistle
Order of the Thistle
The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle is an order of chivalry associated with Scotland. The current version of the Order was founded in 1687 by King James VII of Scotland who asserted that he was reviving an earlier Order...

 will be used instead of the Order of the Garter, which is generally regarded as an English honour.

It has also been common for Prime Ministers to be granted a peerage
Peerage
The Peerage is a legal system of largely hereditary titles in the United Kingdom, which constitute the ranks of British nobility and is part of the British honours system...

 upon retirement from the Commons, which elevates the individual to the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

. Formerly, the peerage bestowed was usually an earldom (which was always hereditary), with Churchill offered a dukedom. However, since the 1960s, hereditary peerages have generally been eschewed, and life peerages have been preferred, although in 1984 Harold Macmillan
Harold Macmillan
Maurice Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, OM, PC was Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 10 January 1957 to 18 October 1963....

 was created Earl of Stockton
Earl of Stockton
Earl of Stockton is a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. It was created on 24 February 1984 for Harold Macmillan, the former Conservative Prime Minister, just under three years before his death...

. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher accepted life peerages. However, Edward Heath, John Major and Tony Blair did not accept peerages of any kind, although Mr. Major was later appointed a Knight of the Garter. , Gordon Brown remains a Member of Parliament, retaining his Commons seat in the 2010 general election and choosing to remain a backbencher.

Living former Prime Ministers

There are four living former British Prime Ministers:


See also

  • List of Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom
  • Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
    Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
    The Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a senior member of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom. The office of the Deputy Prime Minister is not a permanent position, existing only at the discretion of the Prime Minister, who may appoint to other offices...

  • Historical rankings of Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom
  • Parliament of the United Kingdom
    Parliament of the United Kingdom
    The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

  • Prime Minister's Questions
    Prime Minister's Questions
    Prime minister's questions is a constitutional convention in the United Kingdom that takes place every Wednesday during which the prime minister spends half an hour answering questions from members of parliament...

  • Records of Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom
    Records of Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom
    Records of Prime Ministers of Great Britain and Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom:- Period of service :The Prime Minister with the longest single term was Sir Robert Walpole, lasting 20 years and 314 days from 4 April 1721 until 11 February 1742...

  • Spouses of the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom
    Spouses of the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom
    The Spouse of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is the title of the wife or husband of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. To date it has been held by 44 women and one man who have been married to British Prime Ministers whilst in office...

  • Detailed timeline of UK Prime Ministers from Lord Palmerston to David Cameron
    UK Prime Ministers timeline
    This timeline shows the birth, death and political career of each Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from Lord Palmerston. Unlike countries where the leader is elected directly to high office, the Prime Minister must first establish a political career in Parliament and typically serves many years...

  • Westminster System
    Westminster System
    The Westminster system is a democratic parliamentary system of government modelled after the politics of the United Kingdom. This term comes from the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the Parliament of the United Kingdom....

  • 10 Downing Street
    10 Downing Street
    10 Downing Street, colloquially known in the United Kingdom as "Number 10", is the headquarters of Her Majesty's Government and the official residence and office of the First Lord of the Treasury, who is now always the Prime Minister....

  • List of United Kingdom Parliament constituencies represented by sitting Prime Ministers
  • Prime Ministerial Car (United Kingdom)
    Prime Ministerial Car (United Kingdom)
    The Prime Ministerial Car refers to a number of British manufactured vehicles used by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The vehicles currently used are armoured, custom built Jaguar XJ Sentinel supercharged 5.0-litre V8 models...

  • List of fictional Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom

Works cited

  • Farnborough, Thomas Erskine, 1st Baron. (1896). Constitutional History of England since the Accession of George the Third, 11th ed. London: Longmans, Green and Co.


External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
x
OK