Friday, 8 January 2010

Primus inter pares

The latest kerfuffle in the Labout Party about wee Gordie’s leadership has set the chatterers a chattering and a nattering .  Meanwhile in a parallel universe there are other issues to consider.

One of the more amazing headlines from last weekend stated, “Gordon Brown to install body scanners at all uk airports.”  Mmmm. Clearly he is going to be a very busy boy!
We have evolved from the principle of the Prime Minister being ‘First Among Equals’ into a quasi-presidential system without it being constitutionally ratified. Can press releases from Downing Street seriously mean that the Prime minister is micro-managing every aspect of our complex state?  Because that is what we are told, over and over again. “Gordon Brown to..” “Brown will …” and so on and on.
Conservative Party press releases reveal that David Cameron is already following suit. Is this effective government? Is this how we want to be governed?
Several observers identify Margaret ‘not one of us’ Thatcher’s reign as the one where the shift towards a more presidential style of government gathered momentum. John Major reeled some of this back by restating the need to put cabinet government back at the heart of the Executive. Unfortunately he also encountered his famous ‘bastards.’
The reverend Blair put far more power and influence in the hands of his kitchen cabinet of unelected advisors (and Alastair Campbell) than the actual cabinet. Ministers found themselves ‘briefed against’ and undermined. For instance, just how much damage was done to UK prospects by the feud between numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street which went on for years?
In the not too distant past the relevant cabinet minister would front up most issues. The PM’s involvement was limited to a handful of major problems.  The PM would also respond in terms of, “The Government will …”  As the focus of attention and power has shifted towards the office of the PM so there seems to have been a correlated loss in status (and public recognition) among Cabinet Ministers.  Try and name ten current cabinet ministers and their roles.  Easy? Now try naming five shadow cabinet ministers and their roles. For a real bonus, try and name five LibDem shadow members (apart, of course, from the mighty Vince).
There are clearly pros and cons about Cabinet Government and Presidential systems. What is disturbing is the way we appear to be slithering from one to the other without any real analysis or sense of what works better in a democracy.

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