Running the country

ben wallace

Where is this year going? Way back on Jan 7 Jeremy Corbyn (remember him?) asked in the House of Commons ‘where is the Prime Minister?’ In reply, Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary since 2019, replied ‘The Prime Minister is busy running the country’.

If only that were true. It is another of those myths which pervade our common thinking that somehow the Prime Minister runs the United Kingdom. In truth, while the Prime Minister occupies a very important role in the country he, or she is the head minister. 

A minister is a politician who heads a government department, making and implementing decisions on policies in conjunction with the other ministers. In effect the Prime Minister heads a department that provides leadership to the other ministers. The phrase first among equals is apt to mention at this point – the leader of a group of people who is officially considered equal in rights and status to the other members of the group.

Politicians set policy, create legislation and agree the budget for the government of the country. The running of their departments is down to the management of the civil service that does much of the work. The minsters don’t even run their departments in the sense that people would understand in a business context. 

How then is the Prime Minister running the country? In short, he, in this instance, isn’t. He may well have been absent due to working on important policy and political issues but the running of the country is down to the millions of working people making product and providing services. 

I get it that politicians elaborate on the truth and I understand that Prime Minister’s Questions is a constitutional convention that requires immediate and often theatrical answers yet Corbyn’s question was still valid. Where was the Prime Minister? Certainly not running the country.

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