Administering the Summit: the British Prime Minister’s Office

  • Christopher Clifford
Part of the Transforming Government book series (TRGO)


The power of the prime minister in the British system of government can be formidable. The extent to which this is true was reflected in Lord Hailsham’s now famous use of the phrase, ‘elective dictatorship’ as the title to his 1976 Dimbleby Lecture. The response by some has been to advocate the establishment of a ‘constitutional premiership’.1 This concentration of power depends, on the whole, not on formal legal responsibilities, but on constitutional conventions, some derived from prerogative powers.2 By convention a prime minister has authority to appoint and dismiss ministers, or formally power to make recommendations to the Crown on a range of appointments. The prime minister has control over Cabinet meetings — over the order of the agenda, the frequency of meetings, the content of discussions to a degree, and the extent to which informal ad hoc meetings substitute for discussions at main Cabinet or Cabinet committees.3 A prime minister has a pre-eminent public profile, through influence over press relations and, importantly, through show-pieces such as prime minister’s question time every Wednesday. The prime minister increasingly has an important part to play in international summitry and in bilateral relations with other heads of state, and also has the right of audience with the Sovereign.4


Prime Minister Civil Servant Private Office Policy Unit Deputy Prime Minister 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Christopher Clifford

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