Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Decline of the British cabinet

In an interesting article on their first page yesterday, the Guardian revealed how four men who held the position of cabinet secretary between 1979 and 2005 in giving evidence to a House of Lords committee investigating the workings of the cabinet office have criticised how prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown by their presidential style have bypassed both the cabinet and the civil service.
The interesting thing is that Downing Street does not deny it. Quite on the contrary; Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, told the committee: “The cabinet is not the right body in which to attempt to make difficult decisions, it has too many members for a proper debate ... it is for that reason that since at least the late 1970s the cabinet has been used to ratify decisions rather than take them”.
I can imagine that there would have been quite an outcry here in Norway if a similar thing had been said in such a matter-of-fact way. Of course there is an “inner cabinet” consisting of the three party leaders in the coalition, but to say that the rest of the ministers are not and should not be involved in decision-making would be quite unheard of.


Incidentally, yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the Guardian’s dropping “Manchester” from its name. The newspaper moved to London five years later, despite promising at the time of the name change that “we shall on no account abandon our northern home”.

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