Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Why the collective responsibility of ministers needs refreshing in a coalition

When I was a young whippersnapper, my favourite lesson of the week was politics. Mr Wood was the teacher, a portly chap with a touch of that famous chef detective. I digress, anyhow, he used to ensure all the boys and girls memorised parliamentary conventions and quotes, it was a truly throwback way of teaching but it did wonders for one's grasp of democracy.

Events this week have led me to delve the Commons' Library in search of developments on my favourite such convention, that of ministerial collective responsibility. It's a fascinating read and important to keep front of mind as the coalition cabinet looks to a new age of more diverse and challenging decision making.

The coalition looked to address this early on with 'agreements to differ' within its coalition agreement yet many policies, such as NHS reforms, were not included in this. So either the proposals by the health secretary were originally passed through cabinet and it was only negative stakeholder reaction which influenced the changes; or the Lib Dems kept their counsel because of the convention.

Either way, Nick Clegg needs to test the convention as as much as possible, starting with NHS reforms if he is to repair the damage inflicted on his party in the 'midterms' - although backtracking in the wake of election defeat is not the most sincere way of achieving this.

I think the convention needs redefining beyond the 'agreement to differ' convention in a modern, coalition government. For voters deserve the right to know the balance between Lib Dem/Conservative in to decision making, as the smokescreen of collective responsibility is simply leading to claim and counter-claim.

Granted, this is somewhat of a minor issue to most people, yet I can't help but wonder if modernising the convention for this unique time we live in would improve the quality of coalition cabinet decisions and transparency for voters.

N.B. I tried to find something else on the topic and stumbled across this opinion piece from Lib Dem voice. There wasn't much else out there but the sentiments expressed are similar.

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