The Constitution Unit


Ministers also have rights—balancing executive prerogatives and executive scrutiny

Inaugural Lecture for Sir Peter Riddell, Honorary Professor in Political Science and member of the Constitution Unit. Is there middle ground in the culture war over ministerial standards?

26 April 2023, 6:30 pm–7:30 pm

Peter Riddell inaugural lecture card

Debates over standards in public life have a long history. Their evolution is partly cyclical, reflecting reactions to extended periods of one party in office. But there is also long-term growth in a belief that ministers cannot be trusted to behave well and that more formal structures are needed to check their power. Of late, the view that the abuses and challenges to institutional checks have been greater under some recent prime ministers – particularly Boris Johnson – has produced what amounts to a culture war between, on the one hand, defenders of the elected government – often citing an almost presidential mandate dismissing unelected regulators and judges – and, on the other hand, critics who would constrain or even eliminate ministers from some decisions.
This debate is in danger of becoming very polarised. So where can a new balance be achieved? In this lecture, Peter Riddell argued that the solution must recognise the legitimate rights of ministers as the elected government while also strengthening independent scrutiny where needed. Parliamentary committees should also play a more active role in holding both ministers and watchdogs/regulators to account.

Prof Meg Russell gave an introduction and the Rt Hon Jack Straw gave a response to Prof Riddell's lecture.

Listen to the lecture