Tuesday, 18 September 2012

How to make a Cabinet, and other issues..

No I haven't gone mad - well OK not any more than I was originally anyway - and this has nothing to do with DIY.  It's more to do with our system of politics in the UK.

As all readers from the UK will be aware we recently had a reorganisation of the Prime Minister's closest advisors, collectively known as the Cabinet - chief advisors are the Cabinet Office Ministers, aka Secretaries of State, for Education/Health/Home Office/Foreign Office etc.  What may not be known to readers outside the UK is that none of these post holders need have any expertise in their given post whatsoever.  While it is (we fondly hope) advisable to have a Chancellor of the Exchequer - responsible for economic and budgetary policy - who has economic experience and qualifications, it is not a requirement for example that the Minister for the Armed Forces have served in any of them, or for the Health Minister to be medically qualified - for example an ex-Chairman of the British Medical Council.

Returning to the recent reshuffle - as the reorganising of the Cabinet is known, it is commonplace for a Prime Minister to periodically reappoint people to different posts - most often midway through a term of office, but often too if an administration is in difficulty.  In past times reshuffles during such times have been referred to as 'rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic' and this has occasionally proven to be the case.  In the UK therefore we can find ourselves in a position whereby the Prime Minister's chief advisor on (for example) Education may previously have served as advisor on Health, the Armed Forces or Transport etc.  Nobody can be an expert on such diverse topics.  Contrast this with the USA where the President's advisors are, for example, retired generals, or ex-CIA Directors - in other words people with a proven track record in the area in which they advise.

This is not the only problem however with the Mother of all Parliaments.  Government, broadly speaking contains three main branches; Executive;  Legislative; Judiciary.  While intended to be totally separate thus avoiding any conflict of interest or undue power vested in a single person, this is not the case.  The Executive in the UK consists of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.  The Legislative consists of the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament, more commonly referred to as the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  Very broadly speaking they perform the same function as the USA's Senate and House of Representatives.  Lastly the Legislative branch, in the UK enshrined in the persons of the Law Lords, senior judges and legal experts.

However, all is not as it should be.  Members of the Prime Minister's Cabinet - indeed Prime Ministers themselves - are elected members of Parliament, and are thus able to sit, and vote, on matters arising in the House of Commons.  Thus the Executive branch is inextricably linked to the Legislative, and those proposing policy are able to directly influence debate on its' passing.  Furthermore Lords are able to sit on the Cabinet - although I believe they must give up their seat in the House of Lords to do so (if any reader knows this for certain I would appreciate confirmation).  The Law Lords have no such restriction however, and thus those responsible for enacting new legislation sit in the House of Lords able to affect debate on legislative proposals, and again the Legislative branch is inextricably linked to the Judiciary.

It's all a bit of a mess really, with no single branch of government able to act in isolation, or without influence, from the other two.  The current administration has said they will bring in government reforms, however, as much as both these elements needs to be corrected I cannot see it happening any time soon.

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