Thursday, May 31, 2007

 

The Ultimate Sir Humphrey Makes Judgement on Blair's Cabinet Style

We all knew Blair played fast and loose with Cabinet procedures and, from his 2004 Report on the intelligence relating to Iraq's WMD, that former Cabinet Secretary, Lord Butler(pictured) mightily disapproved. Of course he didn't express himself forcefully, that would be breaking his rules, but his comment(p160) that,

... the informality and circumscribed character of the government's procedures which we saw in the context of policy making towards Iraq risks reducing the scope for informed collective political judgement.

was effectively a coruscating denunciation by someone totally bilingual in the polite subtleties of 'Whitehallese'.

Earlier this week at the Hay Festival, Butler judged that the only decision the Cabinet took during his eight months in post under Blair was the one to approve the Millennium Dome:

"And the only way they could get that decision was Tony Blair left the room to go to a memorial service and John Prescott was left chairing the meeting. There were in fact more people against than for it and the one thing that John Prescott could get cabinet agreement to was that they should leave it to Tony. That was the one decision."

Cabinet government had 'progressively weakened' since the Second World War, according to the former Oxford Blue. Thatcher had clearly talked more than she listened, Major had lost control through indiscipline and leaks but Cabinet government had 'virtually disappeared' under Blair. New Labour was more interested in discussing presentation and 'the lines to take' than 'discussions about policy'. So Cabinet papers-formerly the staple of discussion at the highest level of government-ceased to be written and circulated and meetings had to survive on a diet of oral reports: 'not a satisfactory way of proceeding' was Butler's dry verdict.

It will be interesting to observe- via those many informal journalistic ways whereby we explore life behind the scenes- whether Gordon continues in a fashion which also seems to have suited his own style, or reverts to something closer to traditional, 'proper' Cabinet government.

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