Decision-making is central to a government. How those decisions are made is important especially if the whole issue of decision-making might be seen to compromise the accepted standards of politics. At this moment in time, people are questioning the decision-making process within this government, especially who has an input into those final decisions.

Do we have a cabinet decision-making process or a process whereby decisions are made by a small clique both in the executive and out of it?

A Cabinet decision-making process is when all in the Cabinet feel confident enough to make an input into an issue without fear of retribution if their views are at odds with the Prime Minister or other senior members in the Cabinet (Foreign Secretary, Chancellor + Home Secretary). Such a process will be seen as democratic and inclusive. The final decision made will almost certainly be what the majority of the Cabinet feel is required, though the Prime Minister can override a majority Cabinet decision even after a full discussion, as part of his authority. However, this would be very rare and might spark a Cabinet rebellion. This process would still be seen as part of the Cabinet decision-making process as a full and frank exchange of vies have taken place.. The process is open, inclusive and all members should feel part of the process.

Prime Ministerial government is what Tony Blair has been accused of. The claim is that he bypasses accepted standards of decision-making and comes to decisions after consulting just a few people – including unelected people such as his former Director of Communications, Alaistair Campbell. In this way, the claim is that decisions taken have not included an input from all members of the Cabinet. Such a process, it is said, causes mistrust in the Cabinet. The claimed input of non-elected people from outside of the Cabinet also undermines the democratic process as such people are unaccountable to the electorate. Blair, of course, denies that he engages in such a system of decision-making.

Blair is not the only Prime Minister who was accused of this. Harold Wilson had his so-called ‘kitchen cabinet’ in the 1960’s. Margaret Thatcher is said to have dominated her Cabinet to such an extent that she had a Prime Ministerial form of government even though she met with her Cabinet. It is said that her Cabinets were so dominated by her that they simply rubber-stamped her wishes regarding policy.

Who makes an input into government decisions?

Using the cabinet decision-making process –

  • House of Commons via MP’s who would have access to Cabinet members and are in parliamentary committees that examine government policy.
  • House of Lords who comment and vote on government bills
  • Pressure groups who have access to MP’s and Cabinet members
  • Civil Servants: senior civil servants (‘mandarins’) also give an input even if they are non-elected

Using the Prime Ministerial system:

  • The Prime Minister
  • People in the Prime Minister’s inner circle, including civil servants and ‘others’, which might include a few in the Cabinet, non-elected government personnel etc.

In one sense, the ultimate decision-making body is Parliament as all government bills go through the Commons and the Lords. If a bill is voted down, any decision taken by the Cabinet or an inner-circle becomes invalid.

Also, the EU has a major input into government decision-making as all legislation must fit in with EU standards and the Factortame decision by the Lords that EU legislation is superior to national legislation.

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