Discover Central Government
What are the roles of the British Prime Minister?
The roles of the British Prime Minister include exercising prerogative powers but their role in the 21st century world is actually much broader.
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. They will remove ministers who are seen to be a problem. For example, David Cameron removed Michael Gove, who had been confrontational with teachers, because he did not want this to continue in the run up to a 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.
Sets the Agenda
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, David Cameron developed a more Eurosceptic line promising a referendum on European membership and the renegotiation of Britain’s role in the EU, Tony Blair promoted the idea of public services reform and No 10 worked to drive initiatives related to this through the Government machine.
Directs Government policy
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. For example, Tony Blair split the Home Office into a new Home Office and Justice Departments. This was caused by the old Home Office’s failures over deporting foreign prisoners and monitoring immigration.
Manage the media
The Prime Minister has to manage the media and sort out crises which may be internationally serious or party political.
This includes, how to respond to a terrorist attack or the Plebgate affair over what Andrew Mitchell, Chief Whip at the time, 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. They will also look to 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. For David Cameron it was the message that economic recovery had been tough but a Labour Government would ruin it.
National and international leadership
The Prime Minister gives national and international leadership.
Tony 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.
Manage their majority (or arrangement) in Parliament
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.
Be a political party leader
The Prime Minister is the party leader. They need to inspire the party at the Party Conference and manage divisions within the party, as both Harold Wilson, David Cameron and Theresa May had to do over Europe.