Understanding the power of the prime minister: structure and agency in models of prime ministerial power

  • Christopher Byrne
  • Kevin Theakston
Original Article


Understanding the power of the prime minister is important because of the centrality of the prime minister within the core executive of British government, but existing models of prime ministerial power are unsatisfactory for various reasons. This article makes an original contribution by providing an overview and critique of the dominant models of prime ministerial power, highlighting their largely positivist bent and the related problem of the prevalence of overly parsimonious conceptions of the structural contexts prime ministers face. The central argument the paper makes is that much of the existing literature on prime ministerial power is premised on flawed understandings of the relationship between structure and agency, that this leads to misunderstandings of the real scope of prime ministerial agency, as well as its determinants, and that this can be rectified by adopting a strategic-relational view of structure and agency.


Prime minister Political leadership Political time Structure-agency Strategic-relational approach 


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PoliticsUniversity of ExeterExeterUK
  2. 2.School of Politics and International StudiesUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

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