Cabinet Reform in Britain, 1914-1963

Cabinet Reform in Britain, 1914-1963

Cabinet Reform in Britain, 1914-1963

Cabinet Reform in Britain, 1914-1963

Excerpt

Ever since World War I, the structure of British central government has come under severe pressure, as government tasks have increased and become considerably more complicated. Simultaneously, the structure of the Cabinet has become the subject of critical discussion. Whereas some regard constant piecemeal adjustment to new administrative demands as the only realistic answer, others have argued for a more drastic overhaul, whether by what they have called a "rationalization" of the interdepartmental structure or by the establishment of a non-departmental Cabinet, dedicated, above all, to the consideration of long-term policy.

In matters of Cabinet reform, complacency and concern seem to have alternated in a curious cycle, which recurred during the preparation of this book. I first became interested in the problems of British Cabinet structure in 1951, the year of the "Overlords controversy." Most research for this book was done in more serene days between 1954 and 1959, and the Dutch edition was published in the Netherlands in 1960. The suggestion for an English translation came from some British colleagues in the still quiet period of early 1961, before Macmillan's political fortunes began to slip. By pure accident, it will now come out at a time when uncertainty about policies and considerable political excitement have stimulated a new crop of administrative innovations and have provoked demands for further reform.

It is not my intention to enter into this renewed debate. The purpose of this book was, and is, merely to give an account, seen through the eyes of a foreign observer, of certain typical trends in British thought on British central government. To this end it offers, in Part I, a description of the evolution of the Cabinet since 1914, indicating at every point what demands there were for Cabinet reform. In Part II is given a more detailed description of the actual changes and demands for reforms in the organization for defense and economic policy. Many ideas about Cabinet reform originated in the defense field, but their translation into the civilian field, particularly the field of economic policy, revealed the serious shortcomings of any organizational "models" derived from defense experiences. Finally, in Part III, chronological description gives way to analysis. After a summary of the changes that have taken place since 1914, the problem of Cabinet organization is tested against three distinct schools of thought put forward by a number of leading British politicians and academicians seeking to ease the difficulties of government at the top. This scheme, inevitably, implies some repetitious argument. But, after considerable reflection, I thought this preferable to a sacrifice of clarity or completeness.

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