Role of PMO

The most significant change is probably the way Prime Ministers have become more
interventionist in the running of Departments and their individual policies. Rather than intervening
only on major issues of policy or strategy, or where Departments were in disagreement, the Prime
Minister (or those acting in his or her name) routinely comment on or change policies that are
solely matters for a single Department. Several units have been set up over the years to carry out
intervention and scrutiny ion different forms (Policy Unit, Delivery Unit, Strategic
Communications Unit, and so on) but these remain unaccountable, overlap with the Cabinet Office
and Treasury and collectively risk undermining the effectiveness of individual Departments.
Another significant change has been the growing willingness under successive Prime Ministers to use
a majority in the House of Commons to over-ride checks and balances established by constitutional
convention; for example, successive moves to curtail the independence of local government since the
1980s, or changes to civil liberties such as detention without trial. This links to the UK’s lack of a
written constitution: such fundamental changes can be carried by a simple majority in the Commons,
while countries with a written constitution would usually require a higher threshold for
‘constitutional’ changes. Combined with the extreme concentration of power in the hands of the
Prime Minister, this creates the risk – and in some cases the reality – of a dictatorship of the majority.
A further change has been the role of the Prime Minister in party fund-raising, particularly from major
donors, as elections have become more expensive and income from ‘rank and file’ members has
become a smaller proportion of the total. Though hard to measure (for obvious reasons), it appears
that this role has become more significant since the 1980s and could perhaps be compared to the
situation prior to the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925. The risk of this development is that
the decisions of the Prime Minister are, or are seen to be, influenced by donors.

Categories: News