Separation of Powers--Does it Still Work?

By Robert A. Goldwin; Art Kaufman | Go to book overview
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executive as well as their awareness that the prime minister can promote or frustrate their political careers strongly encourages deference to the government. This, however, is not evidence of that total subordination of the majority parliamentary party to the government that would demonstrate the absence of an adequate separation of executive and legislative power in Britain. The evidence, on the contrary, indicates that British governments cannot take for granted the unwavering support of their party followers in Parliament and usually make considerable efforts to persuade and sometimes to compromise with them to maintain party cohesion.

As the experience of Edward Heath demonstrated, a British prime minister who persistently introduces controversial and divisive proposals in the House of Commons without prior consultation with his party's backbenchers and regardless of their anticipated reactions is very likely to suffer defeats on some occasions. 42 Twice during the past century large numbers of government members of Parliament (M.P.s) have been prepared to destroy the unity of their party rather than follow a prime minister whose policies they believed disastrous. On June 8, 1886, ninety-three Liberal M.P.s joined with the Conservafives to destroy William Gladstone Irish Home Rule Bill along with the Liberal government. In August 1931, when Ramsay MacDonald, who had been prime minister in a minority Labour government, formed a new government in coalition with the Conservative and Liberal parties to deal with the country's economic crisis, he was deserted by all but eight of the Labour backbenchers. 43


This essay has attempted to establish three conclusions about the separation of powers. First, as a prescriptive theory of certain aspects of the relation between governmental organizations and personnel, it contains elements of universal validity that no country should ignore in arranging its governmental institutions. Since there are other principles of governmental organization of equal or greater importance, however, it does not follow that the greater the degree of independence of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, the better the governmental system. An attempt to go beyond what is necessary to realize the aims of the doctrine may frustrate the achievement of other values. When the question is raised in the United States, Does the separation of powers still work? what is being asked is not whether the institutional relations of American government continue to satisfy the requirements of the doctrine but whether in doing so they have weakened government in other respects. Second, both the presiden


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