6

Problems of the Cabinet system
The survey of the Cabinet system in the preceding chapters reveals a complicated, uneven, sometimes inconsistent picture but three underlying characteristics are clear. First, the main component units of the system are individual departments and, particularly, their Secretaries of State: the dynamics of the system are dominated by this predominance of individual ministerial authority. Second and simultaneously, the system retains a fundamentally collegiate character and ministers still take the most important decisions and share responsibility collectively. Third, this collegiality is nonetheless attenuated by the diffusion of power and responsibility from the Cabinet to smaller decision-making fora —committees, ad hoc groups and bilateral discussions. The closely-knit pre-war Cabinet machine has become more diffused and, as collegiality has weakened, there is an even greater emphasis on the personal relations between each minister and the Prime Minister. The system is similar to an exploding galaxy: as the central gravitational force weakens, different elements of the system begin to drift out of synchronisation with each other, disjointing the coordination of the system but still strongly influenced by, and influencing, the central force. This system has serious weaknesses, all interlinked, eight of which are examined in this chapter:
1 The immersion of ministers in the work of their departments, distracting them from their responsibilities as Cabinet ministers.
2 The fragmentation of collective decision-making into three separate spheres, with consequences for the Prime Minister’s role.
3 Pressure in recent decades on ministerial collective responsibility.
4 The adequacy of briefing and advice for the Prime Minister.

-172-

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British Cabinet Government
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface to the Second Edition vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • A Note on Sources xi
  • 1 - Describing the Cabinet System 1
  • 2 - Ministers and Their Departments 12
  • 3 - Collective Decision-Making 49
  • 4 - The Role of the Prime Minister 88
  • 5 - The Dynamics of Collective Decision-Making 138
  • 6 - Problems of the Cabinet System 172
  • 7 - Advice at the Centre 196
  • 8 - Conclusion 238
  • Notes 255
  • Bibliography 257
  • Index 270
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