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The Cabinet

Obviously, no government wants an important member of its party to start criticizing it. This would lead to divisions in. the party. There­fore, the leading politicians in the governing party usually become members of the cabinet, where they are tied to government policy by the convention of collective responsibility.

The cabinet meets once a week and takes decisions about new policies, the implementation of existing policies and the running of the various government departments. Because all government members must be seen to agree, exactly who says what at these meetings is a closely guarded secret. Reports are made of the meetings and circulated to government departments. They summarize the topics discussed and the decisions taken, but they never refer to individuals or what they said.

To help run the complicated machinery of a modern government, there is an organization called the cabinet office. It runs a busy communication network, keeping ministers in touch with each other and drawing up the agendas for cabinet meetings. It also does the same things for the many cabinet committees. These committees are appointed by the cabinet to look into various matters in more detail than the individual members of the cabinet have the time (or knowledge) for. Unlike members of the government itself, the people on these committees are not necessarily politicians.

The history of the Cabinet is a good example of the tendency to secrecy in British politics. It started in the 18th century as an informal grouping of important ministers and officials of the royal household. It had no formal recognition. Officially speaking, the government was run by the Privy Council, a body of a hundred or more people (including those belonging to ‘the Cabinet’), directly responsible to the monarch (but not to each other). Over the years, the Cabinet gradually took over effective power. The Privy Council is now a merely ceremonial organization with no power. Among others, it includes all the present ministers and the most important past ministers.

In the last hundred years, the Cabinet has itself become more and more ‘official’ and publicly recognized. It has also grown in size, and so is now often too rigid and formal a body to take the real decisions. In the last fifty years, there have been unofficial ‘inner cabinets’ (comprising the Prime Minister and a few other important ministers). It is thought that it is here, and in Cabinet committees, that much of the real decision-making takes place.


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