The Basic Constitutional Rules: Influence and the Prerogative

Vernon Bogdanor

in The Monarchy and the Constitution

Published in print November 1997 | ISBN: 9780198293347
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598821 | DOI:
The Basic Constitutional Rules: Influence and the Prerogative

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The office of head of state should be distinguished from that of head of government. The head of state has three main functions. First, there are constitutional functions, which today are primarily of a residual or formal kind, such as appointing a prime minister and agreeing to dissolve the legislature. Second are the ceremonial functions that President de Gaulle once dismissed as opening exhibitions of chrysanthemums. Third, and perhaps most important, there is the symbolic or representative function, by means of which the head of state represents and symbolizes not just the state but also the nation. The head of state represents the nation to itself. These last two functions are, in Bagehot's terminology, `dignified’ rather than `efficient’ functions. They are likely to be better performed when the office of head of state is separated from that of head of government so that the head of state is not an active party politician. The fundamental principle of constitutional monarchy is that of acting on the advice of ministers. But this does not exclude a considerable amount of influence being wielded by an assiduous sovereign.

Keywords: Walter Bagehot; ceremony; constitution; constitutional monarchy; head of government; head of state; influence; nation; royal prerogative; symbolism

Chapter.  9420 words. 

Subjects: UK Politics

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