Monday, 22 September 2008

"A pretty united cabinet"

The heading I have chosen for this little exercise in blogology is Gordon Brown's description of his top table. It strikes me as a quite extraordinary thing for a Prime Minister to say but from the mouth of the current incumbent I suspect it has a special meaning.

At the heart of cabinet government is the concept of collective responsibility. This does not require all members of the cabinet to agree that the collective decision is right but it requires them all to defend every such decision in public no matter how furiously they might argue against it in private. If they feel unable to do so they must resign from the cabinet. These days there does not seem to be much recognisable cabinet government going on but there is still a cabinet and its loyalty to the Prime Minister is crucial to his survival in office.

The principle of collective responsibility allows the Prime Minister of the day to say with absolute confidence that his cabinet is united. In order to be a cabinet it is, by definition, united. For a Prime Minister to say his cabinet is "pretty united" is curious indeed. So why did he say it?

Was it a rare moment of honesty from a man with an 11-year record of dishonesty in his public utterances? Was it a weary slip of the tongue? Was it an exasperated recognition of pending revolt? Of course I do not know what it was other than a very strange thing for a Prime Minister to say. My guess is that it was the best gloss he could put on the truth, if so the next couple of months should be very interesting.

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