Voters, Parties, and Leaders: The Social Fabric of British Politics

By J. Blondel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
The Web of Government

Now that we have sketched, however briefly, the component forces in British politics, we must try to see how these forces meet.We have often stressed the compact character of British society: it is integrated and even in parts hierarchical.Centralization has not been imposed on it from above, it has naturally grown within it. This means that the main social forces, those of the politicians, of the interests, of the public service, must have developed a rather elaborate system of connexions. The structure of British politics is shaped by the nature of these connexions as well as by the nature of the forces themselves.The actors are important, but also the stage on which they play.

Some of these connexions are the product of the British constitution.The cabinet system of government works on the principle that the cabinet constitutes the connecting link between politicians and civil servants, as well as the apex of the pyramid of power.Ministers and higher civil servants are in constant consultation: cabinet decisions are transmitted to the top civil servants for implementation; civil servants advise their respective ministers on the feasibility of plans, give information on detailed or technical points, and suggest possible alterations. Ministers are in constant contact with Members of Parliament and, through them, with the parties.They are naturally in closer contact with the members of their own party; they keep in touch with them not only on the floor of the House or in official committees, but also in the parliamentary committees of their backbenchers and in the party committees outside Parliament. Ministers also keep in fairly close touch with members of the opposition parties, because, when the House is in session, they have to answer questions, reply to debates, discuss points in committees.Admittedly, many exchanges are acid: ministers must permanently remain on their guard. None the less, there is

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