The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The Cabinet of the Great Britain

Category: Politics

The most important job of the political parties is to provide Cabinet ministers. For whatever Parliament may do, it is on these twenty men that the week-to-week running of the country depends. The Cabinet has no legal existence, beyond the powers of the ministers of the Crown. It is merely a Committee, whose very existence was originally secret, formed from the majority party of the House, to carry out the business of Government.

A Government consists ‘altogether of about seventy politicians — about a ninth of the members of Parliament — in, cluding such unlikely people as the Solicitor-General for Scotland and five junior Lords of the Treasury. There are also nine ministers who, although heads of important departments, including Pensions, Health and Power, are not in the Cabinet. But it is the Cabinet which forms the heart of decisions, and between the Cabinet and the rest is a great divide. Non-cabinet ministers are occasionally inyifed to the, Cabinet room to discuss their topics, but the ordeal ts alarming. nit he back of The Cabinet meets in a White room at the back of 10, Downing Street, with Oo8 SISA fn the middle, looking out Bi to, the garden. Ministers leave their hats and coats ona “Olifside, labelled“Lord Chancellor’, apa master-General’’, etc., and sit down in front of green balze; Bens and paper; the Prime Minister — who also uses the room as his office — sits in the middle facing the garden. The Prime Minister opens the meeting, and Ministers address their remarks to him, referring with careful impersonality to their colleagues: “I can’t quite agree with the Lord Privy Seal…’’

The Prime Minister in Cabinet is officially no more than “primus inter pares’’ — just one member of a committee. But in fact, apart from his political advantage, he has a strong-hand.. He is Chairman of the Committee: he appoints it, Stimmioris it, guides it, and can eventually dissolve it. Cabinet-making is probably the most important part of a Prime Minister’s job: but the scope is not as great as might appear from outside.

A Cabinet remains very much the expression of a Prime Minister’s personality. He can introduce peers, and if necessary make Onis. 8 Cap bring in ballast and he can — up to a point — demote” his” rivals.

The Cabinet, most people agree, is too big. It has fluctuated over twenty years between fifteen and twenty-two: but since the eighteenth century has steadily got bigger. Big Cabinets lead inevitably to formality, and any meeting of twenty has severe limitations. Inside a big Cabinet there nearly always develops an “inner Cabinet’? — the small group of ministers who are consulted by the Prime Minister beforehand and who prepare and guide the decisions.

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