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Ministers; their backgrounds and roles.

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Minsters; their backgrounds and roles.

Explain the two roles of a minister

First of all they have their MP role. Such as constituency duty and to a representative for that particular region. This includes speaking in the House of Commons. This also includes Cabinet responsibilities if they are senior party figures. Arguing for any issues that need their input. Departmental issues.

Their second role is Whitehall duties. As they are heads of Whitehall. They monitor what is been done and to make sure they are all working to a high standard. Taking responsibly for their civil servants

Limitations of a Minster’s power

  • Outnumbered by their senior officials (usually 6 or 7 to 1).
  • Permanency is an issue. Their time in office is a unbelievable 2 years.
  • They’re knowledge on certain things will not be great. No knowledge of departments work so no clear objectives and priorities taking over.
  • Maybe thy have too much responsibility. Cabinet, Parliament, the media and the European Union. In fact 65% of their work is not based around departmental work.
  • Rely too much on what others tell them. They talk about information fed to them rather than their own research. Leaks could happen to embarrass for the minister.
  • People have been on the job for a long time may have ‘loopholes’ too delay certain laws. So it’s harder to implement law.

The relationship of ministers and civil servants, who dominates?

Explain Theakston’s four models of the relations between civil servants and ministers.

The Formal Constitutional Model - That the civil servants should provide information that the Ministers need and remain non-political. This allows the 3 principles to be maintained. Anonymity, neutrality and permanence. This is highly theoretical.

The Adversarial Model - It suggests that it’s a struggle for power and Control. Richard Crossman and Tony Benn raised a point that the Civil Service is obstructing the Government’s policy programme.  Benn said they have their own agenda, Thatcher said they’re not willing to move ahead quickly for her radical policy programme.

The Village Life in the Whitehall Community Model - Like the Formal Constitutional Model but it signifies that it has a co-operative and close relationship. Civil servants with their experience and their knowledge would help the Minister prepare and bring out the issue

Bureaucratic Expansionism Model - Much like the Adversarial Model, they have suspicions but even more so. This suggests that Civil Servants only do things to suit themselves. By having non-political empires which were financially inefficient and delay government.

Explain the four factors that might influence their relationship

  • ‘Ministers decide, civil servants advice’ - Statement to summarise the relationship, ‘on tap, but not on top’. Officials should really be non-partisan and impartial. They should give advice on all issues not to suit themselves but to suit what’s best. They should allow the Minister to have the final say because they have to take the blame, if it goes wrong of course.
  • Ministers are of course transient. They’re temporary in a way. (2 years is average). Officials may have been there a long time and understood the system better. They probably know the best route to take such as which policies would be most suitable. ‘Departmental view’ although this could contradict government’s or minister’s priorities. If they’re in power for a long time this would allow them to get some experience.
  • Much has been written about ‘mandarin power’. Mandarins being very senior officials. They have close and regular contact with ministers. They can obstruct and not tell them certain information. Becoming more powerful. They have too much powerful influence of the Minister. They have  a lot of expertise and experience and a high privileged background, seemed to be the best for the job?
  • Strong minister will insist on their policy. Rightly or wrongly it’s said that first 48 hours will show what kind of minister they will be. Strong and independent or a pushover and relying on people for information.

What advantages do civil servants have over ministers?

  • They can out number the minister as mentioned previously.
  • Top civil servants have informal relationships, so a civil servant can advice another civil servant to come around to their way of thinking.
  • Ministers can be undermined as their policies can be changed through the civil servants. For example they can leak a story to the press.

Individual Ministerial Responsibility

What is individual ministerial responsibility

If something has gone wrong in their departmental they take full responsibility. It’s a constitutional convention. Ministers are answerable to Parliament.

Why does it seem to be in decline?

They are going closer to cabinet collective responsibility, which makes all ministers have the same views and making it easier to pass policy. Also making it clear and coherent.

A team if that’s the word. They all say the same thing to the public so there are no complications, unless of course, leaks. There have been 2 cases of IMR such as Thomas Dugdale over the Crichel Down affair and Lord Carrington over the outbreak of the Falklands war.

Why do ministers resign?

  • Sexual or financial impropriety, such examples include Ron Davies with his famous ‘moment of madness’
  • Political misjudgements and mistakes. Peter Mandelson is an example of this. Because of a loan given to him by a fellow minister. This seemed to be ‘sleazy’, but was cleared with all charges then resigned for the 2nd time for an accusation of quickening the passport process for the Hidunja brothers.
  • Policy differences with the government. Ministers can disagree on policy changes and therefore have to resign. Robin Cook is an example of this with the invasion of Iraq. He didn’t accept the collective responsibility.

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