Daniel Korski

Government, Russian-style

Government, Russian-style
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Правительство, в русском стиле

Britain is being governed by a duumvirate. Britons may not understand how two-headed government works; but Russians should have no trouble at all. They have long been accustomed to a two-headed form of government. Perhaps at the next UK-Russian summit, the quartet of Cameron, Clegg, Putin and Medvedev can swap tips.

Clegg’s importance to the Conservative-Liberal government will transform the previously honorific role of deputy Prime Minister. He will retain the right to fire Liberal Democrat ministers, if not directly then by threatening to remove their party whip. And, like on the continent, government re-shuffles, sackings and promotions will be negotiated between the Prime Minister and his Deputy. So ministers, Tory and Liberal, will have to do well by both Cameron and Clegg. The Deputy Prime Minister will presumably form the upper layer of decision-making alongside the Prime Minister - the second member in a sort of two-person Upper Cabinet. He is in charge of political and constitutional reform.

He will probably have a representative role. As a Cabinet Office note from 2007 said:

“When a visiting government VIP visits the UK, it is common for the Deputy Prime Minister to host a meeting on behalf of the Prime Minister….The Deputy Prime Minister is also often asked to represent the Prime Minister at meetings and events abroad, when the Prime Minister is not able to attend.”

Tony Blair’s deputy chaired the UK's China Task Force, an informal group of experts from industry, education and cultural bodies that developed policy towards China. It is  feasible that Nick Clegg may do something similar on, say, Russia, given the UK’s poor relations and his personal ties.

Foreign diplomats are sure to make a bee-line for the Deputy Prime Minister, hoping, as British envoys do in Washington DC, to press their cases not only in the Foreign Office but with different centres of power. He could become a sort of liberal Dick Cheney, exercising increasing influence on matters he is interested in; but, unlike the US Vice-President, armed with powers of his own.