Case studies Major and Blair

The nature and extent of the prime minister's powers have been a matter for debate for generations. The reason for this is that, under Britain's uncodified constitution, there is no precise and comprehensive definition of the role. The Cabinet Office prepared a list of the prime minister's functions in 1947, during the premiership of Clement Attlee, which was updated by the historian Lord Hennessy in 1995 and again in 2011. However, this does not have the force of a legally binding document.

Read Peter Hennessy's article on 'The role and powers of the prime minister, available at:Peter Hennessy

A fuller discussion is to be found in Chapter 7 of Hennessy's book Distilling the Frenzy: Writing the History of One's Own Time (Biteback Publishing, 2013).

Compare the list of powers and functions prepared by the Cabinet Office in 1947 with Hennessy's 2011 analysis. In what ways has the job of prime minister changed in this period?

Open the document at the bottom of the page for a diagram summing up. The PMs power (download to see variable factors over the faces of PMs.)

Case study John Major

Case Study Tony Blair