What are the roles of the Prime Minister?
The roles of the Prime Minister include exercising these prerogative powers but are much broader and are:-
The Prime Minister chooses all Ministers down to the most junior. Key figures in the party will have to be included but the PM can decide which position they take. In practice, many junior positions are filled on the recommendations of the Whips as the PM is unlikely to be familiar with all the party’s MPs. The PM is also responsible for making sure that the Government team remains popular and so will remove ministers who are seen to be a problem, as Cameron did with Caroline Spelman as Environment Secretary, after a consultation on selling Government owned woodlands led to an angry public reaction and when he removed Michael Gove, who had been confrontational with teachers, because he did not want this to continue in the run up to the General Election. Every so often the Prime Minister will want to give the Government a fresh face with younger MPs and different Cabinet Ministers in a Government reshuffle.
The Prime Minister sets the overall agenda for the Government deciding what the priorities are for new legislation and the key policies that will be promoted. For example, Cameron has developed a more Eurosceptic line promising a referendum on European membership and the renegotiation of Britain’s role in the EU in response to the rise of UKIP and concerns in the Conservative Party. Blair promoted the idea of public services reform and No 10 worked to drive initiatives related to this through the Government machine.
The Prime Minister directs Government Policy overall. The Prime Minister’s office oversees what is happening in the various Government Departments and the policies that Ministers are following and decides where to intervene. More specifically the PM manages the Cabinet system, deciding what is on the Cabinet agenda and who will be on the various Cabinet Committees that carry out much of the business of Cabinet. The PM will bring Ministers together to coordinate policies and sort out disagreements between Ministers. This role may lead the PM to use the prerogative power to change Government Departments. Blair split the Home Office into new Home Office and Justice Departments, after the old Home Office had failures over deporting foreign prisoners and monitoring immigration.
The Prime Minister has to manage the media and sort out crises which may be serious such as how to respond to ISIS or created by the media such as the Plebgate affair over what Andrew Mitchell, the Chief Whip said to the police outside No 10 when they refused to let him take his bike through the gates. The Prime Minister’s Press Office will look to create favourable stories and manage crises and unfavourable stories as efficiently as possible. More broadly the Prime Minister has to create a narrative that will resonate with the public such as Cameron’s message that economic recovery has been tough but is happening and a Labour Government would ruin it.
The Prime Minister gives national and international leadership. Blair immediately reacted to the death of Princess Diana and persuaded a reluctance Queen to publicly react as well. Prime Ministers have always been involved in foreign policy, rarely leaving everything to the Foreign Secretary, and have become Britain’s voice in international summits.
The Prime Minister has to manage his or her majority in Parliament. The PM’s performance at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesdays and in critical debates is important for party morale. If there is a danger of a party revolt with PMs voting against the Government the PM will try to talk to MPs and win them round.
The Prime Minister is the party leader and needs to inspire the party at the Party Conference and manage divisions within the party, as both Wilson and Cameron have had to do over Europe.