Cabinet

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  • Created on: 10-04-19 23:36

What are the main functions of cabinet?

1. Legitimising government decision making.

The cabinet formalises government policy and is collectively bound by all government decisions.

2. Resolving and coordinating policy.

Although the formation of policy rarely takes place at cabinet level, the cabinet is the forum for ironing out departmental conflicts, determining the coherent presentation of policy and allocating appropriate funds.

3. Crisis mangement. 

When emergencies arise, the cabinet becomes central. Health scares, economic crises and foreign wars ensures the cabinet's role as vital in providing politcal legitimacy. 

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The decline of cabinet government?

Several factors have lead to a decline in cabinet decision making:

1. The complexity of government has reduced decision making at cabinet level - ministers cannot grasp the detail of issues that are outside of their own departments. 

2. The prime minister's use of bilateral meetings and cabinet committees means that there are more focused and effective decision-making bodies than the cabinet.

3. The growing status of the prime minister and their supporting infrastructure means that decisions made outside of the cabinet have increased status and legitimacy.

4. The need to balance the wings of the party within the cabinet means that some members of the cabinet are unsympathetic to the prime minister's agenda. 

'Inner cabinets' or 'kitchen cabinets' can provide far more productive forums for decision making. 

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Informal decision-making forums

  • Bilateral meetings are meetings between the prime minister and a single cabinet colleague to ensure that an effective decision has been reached.
  • An inner cabinet is a group consisting of trusted senior cabinet members that meet on an informal basis. This group is more likely to be effecient and collegiate in its approach. However, it exhanges the formal decision making of the cabinet for an informality that can undermine cabinet government and senior cabinet colleagues. 
  • The term 'kitchen cabinet' further emphasises the informal decision making of some cabinet-level meetings. It has been superseded by the term 'sofa government', an accusation levelled at the leadership of Tony Blair, who frequently directed government through a series of relaxed, unminuted bilateral meetings on the sofas of Number 10. 
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The rise of prime ministerial government?

The decision-making process is complex and fluid. Different models exist that depend on factors such as the proximity of elections, the handling of crises and the authority and style of the prime minister.

  • Prime ministerial government: key decisions are taken by the PM and their team of special advisers - or a 'kitchen cabinet' of senior figures - with the cabinet ministers dealing on a departmental basis with their implementation. 
  • Differentiated prime ministerial control: in major departments of state, and matters of national security, the prime minister takes the lead. In other areas, cabinet ministers are predominant. 
  • Departmental government: unless crisis intervenes, a minister's departmental expertise is unchallenged and coordinated at cabinet level by the prime minister. 
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