How can Coalition government affect the traditions of the Cabinet system?

"Yes! I know what I have to face. I have to face a coalition. The combination may be successful. Coalitions, although successful, have always found this, that their triumph has been brief. This too I know that England does not love coalitions. " Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) This is a quotation of famous statesman B. Disraeli taken from the speech in House of Commons in 1851. It mainly states that coalitions between parties can be successful but for a short-term as it leads to significant changes. Historically, the Cabinet is the most powerful decision-making body of the United Kingdom and has certain rules and traditions.

Since the last general election provided a Coalition Government, two-party government, which is quite unusual for Britain, there have been made a range of reforms and changes in order to adapt new government to habitual style. This essay will outline in what way and how the coalition government has affected the Cabinet, by analysing and discussing the main features of Coalition government, the Prime Minister's power, Cabinet and its' traditions (Lowe, C. , Owen, V. et al. , 2010). In order to do this it is useful to define what a Coalition government is.

Coalition government or in other words "hung parliament" is known as a balanced parliament formed due to a minority government after general elections. It is unusual and unstable outcome of general election where no party have an overall majority of votes (326 votes). General election of 2010 is an example of it. The Conservatives dominated election with 306 votes, while Labour had 258 votes and Liberal Democrats had 57 votes. (Lowe, C. , Owen, V. et al. , 2010). The result was a "hung parliament" meaning that the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown remained on his position.

However after results were announced the leaders of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats arranged to create a coalition and make a majority government. It is the first Coalition government in the UK after 1916 Coalition. (BBC News, 2010, Aug) The Coalition and Cabinet government have a number of differences. To understand them we shall define a Cabinet government first. According to Walter Bagehot, the cabinet has combined executive and legislative functions which is "the most powerful body in the state"(Lowe, C.

, Owen, V. et al. , 2010). It is a main decision-making system where the most important questions are discussed and solved. In order to perform successfully all Cabinet members must respect and follow certain principles. First of all, the Prime Minister is considered to be first among equals (or peers), this is also known as "primus inter pares" translated from Latin. This means that he or she has some special importance and authority by his or her colleagues and in the same time formally equal.

The Prime Minister also has the power of patronage, to appoint Cabinet Ministers and exercise their power. He or she can allocate portfolios, decide what job and by whom it will be done in Cabinet. As well as the traditional constitutional doctrine which mainly states that the United Kingdom has a Cabinet Government, the doctrine of collective responsibility also one of the main traditional features of the Cabinet. All decision inside the Cabinet must be taken collectively and unanimously, that is why all members should be collegiate and support collective decision (Lowe, C.

, Owen, V. et al. , 2010). This denotes that all members of the Cabinet as well as upholding and promoting government policies, should also be involved and actively participate in policy making area. The only way of showing disagreement for Cabinet ministers is to resign. Examples are, ministers Robin Cook who resigned after "Iraq War" case in March 2003, Nigel Lawson resigned over the reliance of Thatcher on her economic advisers in 1989 as well as Geoffrey Howe who was against pro-European position and resigned in 1990.

Thirdly, Collective Responsibility also implies the idea of secrecy, the reticence of important information in order to prevent the creation of gossips and leaks to the media. There were many examples when media revealed disrobing information, one of them- "MPs' expenses scandal" (The Guardian, 2011). Another important feature is the Cabinet Committees which are also the part of the Cabinet. Originally, Committees were created to reduce the workload of the Cabinet and are strictly classified. Regular meetings between the Prime Minister and secretary are held in Cabinet Committees, called bilateral meetings.

Decisions made there have the same power as decisions made in the Cabinet (Lowe, C. , Owen, V. et al. , 2010). Overall, creation of the Coalition Government was perceived ambiguously and variously commented. "A kind of cross between a bulldog and a Chihuahua" or "They have created a mongrel breed" as it was said by Conservative mayor of London Boris Johnson. (Stratton, A and Booth, B 2010) Since the Coalition between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats was created several changes has been made inside and outside the Cabinet.

Firstly, with the Deputy Prime Minister the "first among equals" concept of the Prime Minister becomes in some extend controversial, mainly because the Prime Minister's party now has to find a "common ground" with the party they cooperating. For instance, David Cameron has to negotiate with Nick Clegg about all main decisions and plans. Sometimes negotiations end without a common agreement or compromise. For instance, one of the major disagreements between both sides was the question about nuclear power subsidizing, which could split Tories and Liberal Democrats (BBC News 2010).

Moreover, there have to be equality in the Cabinet, the Prime Minister now has to consult with the Deputy Prime Minister in matters such as "hiring or firing" of ministers. For example, after David Cameron negotiation with Nick Clegg, 5 extra Liberal Democrats' members were appointed in the Cabinet. This proves the fact of Cabinet equality, that now the Prime Minister has to share the power and co-operate with the Deputy Prime Minister. That is why it is hard to say that the Prime Minister still is "primus inter pares".

Also the Prime Minister traditionally is considered to be the Chief Spokesman for the government, the leading public figure in the government who speaks for and represents the government to the public. But now the Prime Ministers influence upon public opinion and mass media has declined as the Prime Minister no longer the main public figure, he or she has to represent their common opinion with the Deputy Prime Minister to the public. Therefore, it is difficult to say that in Coalition Government the Prime Minister has a higher public profile and authority.

On the other hand, some people consider that Two-Party Government can lead to revival of traditional governing style, comparing with former "presidential" style (BBC News, 1998). Here is talked about Blair's "Sofa Government" style or the Government of Thatcher, where all main decisions were made mostly by the Prime Minister or in small groups, therefore called "rubber stamps" decisions. In this way the Prime minister can influence and intervene in a wide range of policy areas and often by-pass Cabinet and Cabinet Committees.

Negotiation and evaluation of the legislation passage can be quite useful for some groups of the UK citizens. For example, legislation about raise in tuition fees is negotiating between both parties, giving a chance to Liberal Democrat MPs to vote for, against or even abstain in any vote, which definitely would not happen in one-party government. That is why people now have more opportunities to show their protest and their interest might be noticed (BBC News, 12 May 2010). In addition to it, there is also an evidence of the differences in ideologies between Conservatives and Lib Democrats.

A good example of it is a "mansion tax" introduced by governing party on properties costing more than i?? 2m that was dropped by Lib Democrats, while the Conservatives decided to raise the inheritance tax threshold to i?? 1m (Stratton, A and Booth, B 2010). Moreover, different ideologies can lead the doctrine of Collective Responsibility to face trouble in the hands of the Coalition Government. There was one big issue about NHS privatization, which was offered by Conservatives, where Liberal Democrats' leader Nick Clegg has voted against denationalization of NHS.

"Yes to reform of the NHS – but no to the privatization of the NHS," he said. As a result, in future it can lead at least to suspension of Collective Responsibility (Wheeler, B 2011). It is useful to mention about all reforms in Cabinet Committees made and a creation of a Coalition Committee, which was formed in order to consider issues relating to the operation of the Coalition. As well as the Prime minister the Deputy Prime Minister now also has to attend regular Committee meetings. In other words all committees now are co-chaired by two leaders.

Therefore traditional "Bilateral meetings" has taken a new shape (CabinetOffice. gov. uk, 2010). To sum up, there are a range of rules and traditions of the Cabinet Government that have been settled over the long time. These are the doctrine of Collective Responsibility, collegiality and secrecy in the Cabinet, the status of the Prime Minister, being "primus inter pares" as well as a public figure, the Prime Minister's traditional powers, such as patronage power. However with the creation of Coalition Government many of these traditions have changed and reformed.

In Coalition, the Prime Minister has to negotiate many decisions with Deputy Prime Minister which weakens his status and powers; there also have to be equality inside the Cabinet between two parties, reshuffle of Cabinet Ministers and appointment of extra. Therefore transformation of Cabinet is considered to take place. Back to the quotation of Benjamin Disraeli, the Coalition Government may be successful in many ways, but it also replaces the old traditions of the Cabinet and creates new and unusual governing style.

Bibliography

BBC News (1998), "Blair accused of presidential leadership" available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/128383.stm, accessed at14.11.2011

BBC News (2010),"Queen's Speech: Cameron hails 'radical' programme", available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8702267.stm, accessed at 25.10.2011

BBC News (2010, Aug)," Coalition government – the first 100 day", available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11003016 accessed at 24.11.2011

Cabinet Office (2010), "The Coalition documentation", available at http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/news/coalition-documents, accessed at 27.10.2011

CabinetOffice.gov.uk (2010), "Cabinet Committee System", available at http://interim.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/425203/cabinet-committees-system.pdf, accessed at13.11.2011

The Guardian (2011), "MPs' expenses", available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/mps-expenses, accessed at 25.11.2011

Lowe, C., Owen, V. et al. (2010), Politics, Pearson Custom Publishing, p. 170-174

Stratton, A and Booth, B (2010), The guardian, "New cabinet posts dealt out in coalition government", available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/12/david-cameron-cabinet-posts-coalition, accessed at 20.10.2011

Wheeler, B (2011), "Nick Clegg vows to protect NHS from 'profit motive'", BBC News, available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12722836, accessed at 26.10.2011