British Politics

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 51–67 | Cite as

UK party leaders are ‘preeminent’, but can also be ‘predominant’: Cameron and the Conservatives, 2005–2010

  • Richard Heffernan
Original Article


The power of the party leader, because it is such a moveable feast, is hard to measure, understand or theorise. This article, using Cameron’s leadership of the Conservative party in opposition as a case study, contends that the modern party leader (singular) can play by far the leading role within their party and parliamentary leadership (plural). Opposition party leaders have the potential to be powerful (that is they will be ‘preeminent’) because they (1) lead the ‘shadow government’; (2) have the right of proposal and veto over party policy and electoral strategy; (3) have a powerful private office which is able to lead and direct the party both within and without parliament; and (4) control the party’s ‘official’ news media operation, which can represent the leader’s policy preferences as the party’s policy preferences. But the preeminent leader will be considerably empowered (that is, they will become ‘predominant’) when they possess and make use of four personal power resources (and they will be disempowered if they do not): (1) having a reputation for being ‘leadership material’; (2) being associated with actual or anticipated political success; (3) being electorally popular; and (4) having a high standing in his or her parliamentary party. Under certain contextual circumstances the modern electoral professional, office-seeking UK party leader can be both preeminent and predominant. Even if they lack the entirely free hand to do whatever they want, such a party leader will ‘lead’, not simply ‘follow’ their party. The leadership style of Cameron, building upon that of Thatcher and Blair, was not his singular invention, but rather a reaction to and a trend-setter of far-reaching transformations wrought in the form of the UK political party.


British politics political parties party leadership 


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Heffernan
    • 1
  1. 1.Politics and International Studies, The Open UniversityUK

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