What are the main principles of cabinet government?

The principles of cabinet government are a collective of senior ministers serving under the PM making decisions, policies and reviews of the workings of a democratic government. Although cabinet does not actually decide policies, ministers discuss their agendas at the cabinet meeting that acts as an arena in which most important decisions are taken. It often receives reports and recommendations from its parliamentary comities and is a basic forum for discussion. Cabinet also plans the business of parliament making decisions about timetabling of legislation and choosing major government speakers.

Cabinet also acts to arbitrate in cases of disputes between different departments for example the treasury may not give the ministry of health the budget that it desires and so the whole cabinet can decide on the best way forward. Cabinet also provides to co-ordinate and oversee government policies. A minister responsible for say improving prison conditions may be questioned by his cabinet colleagues on the progress of these reforms and can add criticism or praise without the open forum of the parliamentary floor and possibly more importantly the media. The above illustrates the workings of cabinet government as many examples in all forms of policy and can be discussed and actioned in this way.

Possibly the most important principle of cabinet government is that it provides political leadership for the party in Parliament and in the country. It acts on a consensus basis. However the Thatcher cabinet was perceived to be no more than a platform for Thatcher’s personal policies as if members of her cabinet disagreed they would be sacked and a yes man would replace him. This lead to a common belief that the Thatcherite government had dictatorial qualities. In contrast, John Major was a “cabinet man” i.e. he respected the views of his ministers and took the consensus of opinion. This lead to the view that he was a weak PM but history will show possibly a more democratic one. Both of these extremes lead to their downfalls.

In conclusion the function of cabinet is a method of finely tuning governments. The above examples of Thatcher and Major demonstrate that if the function of cabinet is biased one way or the other this will lead to the eventual downfall of the PM. This is because cabinet is made up of people with their own political views and ideas, and leader needs the skill to blend these to from a good governmental base. Tony Blair’s methods are yet to be seen, only time will tell his fate…..