Thatcher’s government

As well as these strong beliefs, her supreme sense of power and domination over the cabinet was illustrated perfectly when she entered the cabinet meeting only to say" I haven't got much tome today, only enough time to explode and have my way". This is a clear illustration of her self-righteous character which were only to cause harm for her and her party in the years to come. These characteristics and events proved to be detrimental to Thatcher's government.

In eleven years of her regime, came with successes in difficult circumstances, such as the Falklands War and failures like the Poll Tax. However, it was her personality, her cabinet divisions and harsh policies that eventually led to her demise from power. It could be argued then that if she had had a more cabinet led government, her term in government would have been longer, although many ministers claimed she was simply 'passed her sell by date' when she left Downing Street in 1991.

Events like these prove that good prime minister-cabinet relations are essential in ensuring long term stability within a government. Determined not to follow the 'Thatcherite' triumphalist regime John Major wanted to use committees much less, have greater openness, and place greater emphasis on lenghthly cabinet debates. He wanted to have more cabinet democracy and less emphasis on the type of leadership Thatcher had become renowned for. As Thatcher had no room for Europhiles in her cabinet, Major wanted a greater mix of opinions in order to avoid the unrest that preceded his reign.

This strategy to begin with seemed to go according to plan and his cabinet was labelled the 'cabinet of chums', but unfortunately due to ministerial fallouts became famously known as the 'cabinet half full of bastards'. He used bilaterals – informal meetings between the PM and his advisers in order to talk about policy decisions – which possibly detracts the importance from the whole cabinet process. The desire to have a more cabinet led government unfortunately did not materialise however, and Tony Blair, who has become known for his presidential characteristics, succeeded Major.

Despite Tony Blair's success as a media figurehead, behind the scenes, his cabinet system has been subject to great controversy since his party victory in the 1997 General Election. It has been argued that his cabinet management does not allow enough ideological representation, and to a certain extent this is true. For instance he was asked if he ran a dictatorial Napoleonic-style government, he replied "you are either a strong prime minister, in which you are a control freak, or you are a weak prime minister, in which you are weak really, and I think I know which I would like to be accused of".

Another important issue in relation to the cabinet is the number of appointees who have been dismissed by Blair. In twenty months he has lost twenty initial delegates, three of those by dismissal and two by calamity. Peter Mandelson only lasted five months in office, and it is these instances of discord, which are downgrading the value of the cabinets an official policy making body. Some ministers must wonder, must wonder if all the hard work, scheming and sacrifice has been worth it in the end.

This leads to the question whether or not Blair is quasi-presidential. Blair has always been an admirer of Thatcher, who is widely regarded as he most presidential prime minister of last century. To a certain degree, he shows certain forms of leadership. The fact that the strong willed Mrs Thatcher said of him "that young man is getting terribly bossy" shows how strong a political personality he has.

A presidential leader wants to get on with his job and recently Blair indicated that he wanted less time consuming obstacles, by reducing the time in which ordinary MPs could voice their opinions in Prime Ministers Question Time. More concerning to the democratic role of the cabinet, is the fact that since 1997 when Labour came into power, the government has expanded its number of special advisers from 38 to 81. Blair has established two additional bodies, the Strategic Communications Unit and the Research and Information Unit.

Political Spin Doctors are stealing management precedence over the traditionally apolitical civil service. This trend is becoming increasingly indicative of the diminishing role of the cabinet according to the former secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, who claimed "cabinet government is dead" The role of the cabinet is diminishing through modern, autocratic political regimes. The lesser reliance on the Cabinet, has quite possibly to do with the increased number of responsibilities, therefore more dependence is placed on special advisors.

It could also be partially to do with the Prime Minister's will to press ahead with his plans and avoid policy confrontation with 'Old Labour' ministers. In conclusion it is true to say that the current British political regime is 'prime ministerial' because it is dominated more by the will and aims of Tony Blair, than by the philosophical contribution of the Cabinet.

References/Bibliography:

  • Foster, C. , 1999. The End of Cabinet Government PMPA.. 1999 Budge, I. , Crewe, I. , Mckay, D. , Newton, K. , 2001, The New British Politics(Second Edition). Longman 2001, p202-225 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/790391.stm