The effectiveness of Westminster Parliament in holding the executive to account relies on a number of variables, arguably, the most important being the degree of the government’s majority. Other variables include the unity of the party, the presence of a foreign war or the presence of a hostile media. This being said, there are also a number of mechanisms by which Parliament is able to hold the executive accountable.
Westminster Parliament has the ability to hold the executive to account through a variety of methods, such as through the House of Lords. Though it is unelected, the Lords fulfill a fundamental democratic requirement; as the upper chamber within a bicameral legislature, it acts as a constitutional check and balance on executive power. This being said, Tony Blair forced the Hunting Bill of 2004 through the Lords as a Parliament Act; the very rarely used route by which Bills can become law without the assent of the House of Lords. In this way Westminster Parliament failed to ensure executive accountability.
In terms of scrutinizing the executive and actions of government, the House of Commons has a number of opportunities at its disposal, mainly in the form of debates and questions. The Commons is notorious for its constant debate; the Commons can express its views on foreign policy and international crisis, for example the 1956 debates of the Suez crisis and the emergency debate on the Falklands following the Argentinean invasion in 1982. Question time is also a very important example of an opportunity for the executive’s actions and plans to be publicly questioned as the meeting is now frequently featured on TV news and politics analysis programmes. This allows Her Majesty’s Royal Opposition to challenge the executive on a number of issues; a very important democratic feature of holding the executive to account. The prime minister may be directly asked difficult and searching questions to which he/she must answer, though it must be said that many of the Prime Minister’s answers will have been carefully constructed not by the PM but by the Civil Service. However, debates and questions must always be answered and if a reasonable and justified response is not available then the public may a) lose faith in the current executive and b) question whether the PM is suitable for a position of such authority. The PM relies on the votes of the people and must aim to retain this popularity or else their party may turn against them for a more agreeable and popular representative i.e a vote of no confidence e.g Callaghan in 1979 voted out by the House of Commons.
Tony Blair is an example of a prime minister who Westminster Parliament hugely struggled to hold to account, another example being Margaret Thatcher. Both prime ministers had huge majorities; Blair +179 in 1997 and 167 in 2001 whilst Thatcher had majorities of 100+ in both general elections of 1983 and 1987 the largest being +144. It is evident from these numbers that Blair and...