Sunday, August 03, 2008

Cut The Cabinet Down To Size

Brown's on-off cabinet reshuffle looks set for September. The media has started to play the Fantasy Cabinet game. Who's for the chop, who's for the top? The cabinet should be cut down to size.

It's all about personalities. But behind this, there are serious issues. Instead of personalities and rewards, the cabinet should be about who's best for the job and what kind of cabinet should we have for effective government.

The present cabinet of 23 (with a further seven who can attend cabinet meetings), is a huge unwieldy mass. No organisation would dream of having a senior management team of that size. It can't function, so it has no function.

Any tradition of collective cabinet responsibility was removed during the Blair years. He simply ignored the cabinet, sidelined the cabinet secretary and preferred his sofa government. Big issues were rarely discussed and never decided at cabinet.

Like peerages to the Lords, the cabinet is used as a device to give out favours to the chosen ones and a big stick keep them in their place or take away their power.

The financial rewards and status are tremendous. The cabinet has no real influence but it does enable cabinet ministers to hide behind the excuse of not been accountable or responsible.

A radical rethink of the organisational structure of cabinet is needed to make it an effective part of government.

Cut the cabinet down to size. Instead of the present unwieldy 23 plus, reduce it to just seven key areas of responsibility, which reflect major areas of policy.

Chancellor, home secretary, foreign secretary, health, education, environment and a new cabinet post of social welfare.

Political anatomist, Anthony Sampson, in Who Runs This Place?, summed up the situation well:
"The more the prime minister exercised his power directly, through Number Ten and Whitehall, the less was the influence of the cabinet, which had been seen at the heart of Britain's democracy."
"The cabinet has been weakened, not just by the ambitions of prime ministers but by the declining quality of their colleagues. Today it is one of the most serious flaws in the British democratic system."
The present departments, ministries and agencies would be shoe-horned into the responsibilities of the big seven. With just seven, it would be easier to find the right person for the job, among that limited pool of talent so needed for effective government.

Meanwhile back in the world of Fantasy Cabinet.

How about Vincent Cable for chancellor, David Cameron for home secretary and John Cruddas for foreign secretary (to include the ministry of defence)?

Maybe that's a tad too radical?

No comments: