The Chancellor’s Collective Cabinet Irresponsibility – oped

Sir Lindsay Hoyle elected as House of Commons Speaker | Financial Times

Written by Harry Johnson

Collective Responsibility, while practically a requirement for a functioning government as evidenced by how disastrous its lack has been for the Rose and Phoenix governments can be suspended if need be. That was the case with the Check-ups bill, which was a PMB that the shadow cabinet that according to insider sources specifically decided to have a free vote on. 

The original purpose of CCR in its earliest days was to prevent the cabinet from being subverted by the Monarch through disagreements and internal spats being made public. In the modern-day, the point of CCR is to maintain the appearance of a unified cabinet The principle that members of the (shadow) cabinet must publicly support all decisions made by the  (shadow) Cabinet. Members of the LPUK shadow cabinet were elected on the same platform and as is evidenced by  Libertarian Shadow Ministers acting in line with the platform adhering to that very principle.

That’s why /u/dominion_of_canada was right to point that there is no CCR in the shadow cabinet in this context because it was resolved that the bill was a free vote and thus outside of the scope of any form of collective responsibility. The shadow cabinet operating within the confines of the constitutional convention had a free vote in line with existing precedents on the issue when Micheal Howard allowed members of the Opposition to vote freely on the Civil Partnership bill when shadowing the Blair Ministry

More examples of collective responsibility being suspended  include the 1975 EEC referendum with former Cabinet Secretary Sir John Hunt pointing out in his testimony that 

‘‘I would not regard the 1975 EEC referendum] as breaching collective responsibility because this was a decision by the Cabinet as a whole to waive collective responsibility on one particular issue for a limited time. It was not a decision which any Minister took unilaterally …’”

John Hunt

This is seemingly what sets Solidarity’s CCR scandal apart from the Opposition setting a free vote on the bill. In the case of Welfare devolution, the Chancellor and the embattled Agriculture Secretary both dissented from the Prime Minister’s and the government’s position seemingly unilaterally. In the case of Shadow Cabinet, the decision was left to individual MPs to vote with their conscience.

The National government’s agreement to differ on the issue of Tariffs in 1932 is yet another example when the cabinet opted to allow Ministers to dissent on tariff policy from the official line. Setting a new precedent in constitutional theory that operates to this day. It is sad to see the Chancellor and indeed a large part of the political commentariat not being aware of this historical precedent and the changes it brought to how we view the concept of CCR. For a government that prides itself on being a radical progressive alternative their approach to the constitution sure is stuck in the 1800s.

A similar mistake was also made by  C. C. Edwards who attempted to equate a free vote being held by the shadow cabinet to a collapse of collective responsibility. If this form of CCR were to be applied to governance then practically every cabinet and shadow cabinet since 1979 if not earlier would have been subject to this “chaos” rendering the convention of CCR effectively defunct. In fact, by their very own definition, the government has seemingly already collapsed into CCR mayhem as is evidenced by Ministers either abstaining or voting against the motion M560.

 Yet as is evidenced by the rather luscious legislative history consisting of thousands of bills, statutory instruments, and statements being brought before the House one can see that clearly this is not the case and that the system is working as intended.

Either way with a fragile government and a seemingly split  C&S partner it is clear that the supposed collapse of CCR within the Opposition is merely a smokescreen to provide cover for a weak and ultimately faltering minority government that not only can’t stand opposition but as was admitted by the Chancellor does not know the full cost and extent of its policies.

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