David Blackburn

Would Cameron govern differently?

Would Cameron govern differently?
Text settings

In an episode of Yes Prime Minister, a tobacco mogul asks Sir Humphrey: “Does he carry any clout in Whitehall?” The Mandarin replies: “None at all, he’s only a minister.”

The context has changed but the essential truth remains – most Cabinet ministers have no clout in government whatsoever. That at least is the view of four former Sir Humphreys. Lords Turnbull, Wilson, Butler, and Armstrong are quoted in the Guardian saying that New Labour has centralised government around a clique of special advisers. The result? The marginalisation of the cabinet and the breakdown of what they term ‘the efficient and proper conduct of government’.

Not even Jonathan Powell denies it: “Cabinet is not the right body in which to attempt to make difficult decision… it has been used to ratify them.” There’s not much one can add to that, but, assuming Cameron wins, it will be interesting to see if he treats his equals as a collective of rubber stamps.

Cameron has made a number of speeches about “ending sofa government” and “removing spin doctors” from the process of policy formulation, and insists that he will return Cabinet to government. However, there are persistent rumours that the Shadow Cabinet is frozen out of decision-making by a Cameron clique, which includes Steve Hilton and Andy Coulson - SpAds in all but name, though they will continue to be paid by the Conservative Party, not the taxpayer. It is worrying that we could be heading for more of the same, especially at a time when government will have to be at its most cohesive to deliver necessary reforms.