Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister in the UK is the head of government and the most powerful member of the core executive. The Prime Minister possesses the following powers and performs the following functions:

  • Appoints personnel such as cabinet ministers and members of the House of Lords
  • Organises and steers the government through setting the policy agenda
  • Manages and controls the parliament
  • Provides national leadership during times of crisis 
  • Has the ability to exercise prerogative powers which do not require the consent of parliament. For example, making foreign policy decisions and awarding knighthoods.

Unlike in presidential systems of government where the president, as the head of government and state, is directly elected by the people, the Prime Minister in the UK is not directly elected. In fact, the office of Prime Minister is not established by any constitution or law, but rather exists by convention as the member of parliament who has the support of a majority in the House of Commons. In effect, this means the Prime Minister is the leader of the political party who won the most recent general election. Since political parties elect their leaders internally, when general elections take place the public votes for a candidate belonging to a political party knowing that the leader of the party which gains a majority of seats in the House of Commons will become the Prime Minister.

The current Prime Minister is Theresa May and the first Prime Minister was Sir Robert Walpole (1721 - 1742). The Prime Minister resides at the iconic Number 10 Downing Street in London.

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