'The American President is the executive, whereas the British Prime Minister is merely the head of government.' How significant is this distinction?

Essay by snowwhiteUniversity, Bachelor'sB, March 2004

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Article II of the US constitution states: "executive power shall be invested in a President". It then goes on to define the role with formal powers and limitations. Conventionally, the British Prime Minister has been the "first among equals", and the uncodified British constitution does little in the way of definition of the office. These roles seem very different in potential power and influence, with the President embodying the executive, and the Prime Minister merely leading the governing party. This essay will explore the significance in the difference in the respective roles, and what part the political system, and climate, have to play in determining the power of the offices.

Central to the American political system is the principle of the Separation of Powers, maintained by a number of checks and balances. This ensures a separate executive and legislature, meaning that the President cannot directly intervene in policy. In contrast to the US, the UK has a fusion of powers, in which the executive is taken from the legislature.

This allows the majority party to form a Government, and dominate Parliament. As the Head of the governing party, the Prime Minister is elected in a constituency like any other MP. He/She has formal powers in the shape of the Royal Prerogative, and powers of patronage.

The President has certain defined, formal powers. He can block legislation from Congress with his veto, a powerful tool in the hands of one man. Congress can overturn the veto, though historically only 4% of Presidential vetoes have been overturned. The President also has control over treaties and appointments, although these must be ratified by the Senate. The process of ratification can be seen merely as a rubber stamp for the President, but as Bush found in 1991 with his nomination to the Supreme Court...