Main Functions of the Executive

Main Functions of the Executive

  • Propose legislation: most legislation that is put to Parliament comes from the government through the cabinet, often based on manifesto promises.
  • Propose a budget: this is done by the Chancellor, following negotiations with other departments and in cabinet.
  • Make policy decisions: the cabinet sets the legislative and policy direction of government. Ministers will base decisions on this, and will publically support government policy.


The PM has the formal power to appoint ministers and senior figures such as important judges, to dissolve and recall Parliament (although this has been eroded by the Fixed Term Parliament Act), sign treaties and grant honours. These powers are derived from the monarch’s Royal Prerogative, which is no longer used by the monarch but by the executive. In practice, the PM has considerably more powers than this. The more ‘informal’ powers exercised by the PM include:

  • Patronage: the ability to hire-and-fire government ministers (and make other appointments)
  • Control over the cabinet: the PM decides when and how long the cabinet meets for, the agenda for discussion, and who sits on cabinet committees
  • __Party leadership: __the PM leads their party and so has authority over it
  • __Prime Minister’s and Cabinet Office: __these provide institutional support to the PM, including ‘spads’ (special advisers)
  • __Media access: __as head of government, the PM gets considerable media exposure. The media treat the PM as the ‘face of government’ and focus on them

Executive Powers

The executive generally has control of the legislative agenda, as the majority of legislative time is spent considering government bills, which are usually likely to become law. The executive also has powers of ‘secondary legislation’ (sometimes referred to as delegated legislation), where ministers are granted specific powers under laws passed by parliament, including the making of guidelines and regulations and the approval of projects and actions.

Explain, with examples, how policy is made by the executive. (6 marks - two paragraphs)
Your answer should include: Advisers / Cabinet / Core / Executive / Ministers / Civil / Service / Executive / Agencies

PM & the Cabinet

Where does power lie? Key theories:

Cabinet government: the idea that power is collective and located in the cabinet. Members run departments and are drawn from Parliament, and all ministers have an equal say in policy decisions, including the PM. This is underpinned by collective responsibility and a sense of solidarity. Under this idea, the PM needs support of cabinet to survive. This is thought to be an outdated explanation of where power lies in the executive.

Prime-ministerial government: an idea that recognises growing power of the PM. This theory arose from the development of the political party, and the growing importance of the party leader. According to this, cabinet government has been replaced, with the PM now at the centre. The PM makes the major decisions and influences all policy areas, and the cabinet provides advice and support to PM (who is not the ‘first among equals’, but more than this).

Core executive model: the idea that both the PM and cabinet exercise influence on policy, but also use their contacts to exert influence, bringing other institutions into play, for example, key advisors, committee members, senior officials, outside organisations, peers and so on. Under this theory, who holds power depends on the resources available and outside circumstances. This theory recognises that PM power is constrained.

Presidentialism: the idea that UK PMs have, in effect, become presidents who act like (and have the same influence as) a head of state as well as a head of government. Under this, PMs set their own personal policy agendas, and claim a personal mandate following election success. The media focus is on the PM almost exclusively, especially during election campaigns, which are turned into contests to be the next PM. The increasing number of special advisers personally loyal to the PM has added to this explanation.