Traditional theory dictates that the Cabinet is the dominant decision-making body within the Core Executive, where Ministers convene to co-ordinate the policy making of individual departments and thus the overall work of the Government. All of the senior ministers are chosen by the Prime Minister and they are all collectively delegated the power to direct the Government. Within the cabinet, all members have equal status – apart from the PM who has the recognised position of first amongst equals, although certain positions such as Minister for Health, have become dominate in the post war era.
Recently, however, the collective power held by the Cabinet has weakened somewhat, especially under Thatcher and more recently Blair, though this has largely depended on the leadership style preferred by the PM in office. There are several predominant roles of the Cabinet which include: devising major policy (although this is often stated in the manifesto before election); addressing unforeseen major problems (such as the H1N1 'swine flu' outbreak which took place during the Brown government of 2009); harmonising the actions of several different Ministerial departments.
Disputes between senior members can also be aired in Cabinet meetings and planning policy for the future. To this end, the role of the cabinet can still be seen to be important, as it is a place for the top ranking members of the government to come together and plan the future for the country on an open scale. The planning for the iraq war took place at a cabinet level However, many people see it more as a place for agreement of policy that is decided elsewhere rather than a place for actual debate to take place.
This is because the cabinet committees have far more time for discussing the relevant ins and outs of proposed policy and they will have people that have greater expertise of the area than the cabinet as a whole may do. For example, the Minister for defence may take an interest in Education, but he is unlikely to have the detail knowledge that the Minister for Education has and will not have the time to look over policy for that department in detail as his main focus has to be his own department. It is therefore really in the committees that the decisions are made and the cabinet has turned into a place for agreement.
Since 1997 there has been a change from the more formal cabinet setting of government to a more relaxed style of 'sofa government' that Prime Minister Tony Blair was so fond of. It took the form of a bi or tri lateral meeting and was a private meeting between the PM and relevant ministers to discuss the issue at hand. It was here that the Prime Minister was able to hear all the arguments that were likely yo be made in cabinet from a single person and not have to deal with the back and forth of debate that would take place.
It also allows for the Prime Minister to keep issues away from the cabinet as a whole so that their view is not challenged and they can take the policy direction that they want. Under Cameron, the cabinet has had a revival in importance. This is because of the fact that there is a coalition government in place and there needs to be a greater sense of agreement as Ministers are more likely to speak out if they feel that they can gain something for their party's side of the coalition.
This was shown when Theresa May spoke out against the human rights act when it meant that a man could not be deport in part because of the fact that he had a cat. This resulted in the Prime Minister stepping in and taking an active role support May over cabinet colleague Ken Clarke. While it is true that in the past, the cabinet served as a role of elelected members of the House, in recent times, this role has stopped to be important. People are drafted in to give the Prime Minister advide, and so the role of the Cabinet has been diminisished.
For Blair, this advisor was Alistair Cambell, his 'Spin Doctor' and for Cameron, Andy Culson was a vital advisor. To get people into the cabinet itself, the House of Lords has been used so that the Prime Minister can chose allies from the upper House to support them. The best example of this was the peerage given to Peter Mandelson so that he could serve in the Brown cabinet. The spin doctors and media directors used by Prime Ministers of late have been used to combat the greater level of media.
the a portrayal of the Prime Minister is as the voice of the Government, so, when time comes that it is needed to give opinion, it is often the Prime Minister that is approached; they deal with this by giving the impression that not only are they in control of the Party, but of the Government as a whole. ' People such as Alistair Campbell facilitate the exposure of the Prime Minister and their perfectly-packaged opinions on strategy and policy, ensuring that he or she is presented in such a way to support this. With the Prime Minister seemingly at the front of government, the cabinet has become less important.
One function of the cabinet that still is important is the settlement of disagreements between different ministers over their departments, mostly due to finances. It allowed all the views to be aired in an environment where they can be assessed by equals, and due to Collective Ministerial Responsibility, for them not to be spread. However, it would be impossible for all such disagreements to be settled at the cabinet level, purely due to the time constraints that are placed on Ministers, and so it s likely that the Prime Minister will deal with many of these issues own their own in tri lateral meetings with the relevant department ministers.
Overall, the role of the cabinet has changed to fit in with the new style of government that is taking hold within the UK, with a focus on the Prime Minister. As such the cabinet role has had to change to fit in with this, but to say that it is of little importance is to belittle it too much. In the current government especially, it provides an important place for both parties to come together and find policy that can be agreed on both sides of the coalition