Here’s someone from Policy Exchange arguing that what the prime minister needs is an internal thinktank made up of partisan Tory special advisers, not civil servants like the people in the No.10 Policy & Implementation Unit. That might cost money, but…
it tends to be forgotten that some of the special advisers to the Centre are employed by Clegg and that they would have been financed in the previous Parliament by the Liberal Democrats’ share of the Short Money given to opposition parties in the House of Commons.
Besides that, employment of special advisers is one of the exceptional uses for which public funds are justified despite the economic problems of the country and the need to contain public expenditure.
And, incredibly enough, Policy Exchange has its Senior Consultant on Constitutional Affairs ready to go, just as soon as they front up some munn. This is pretty shameless chancerism, and the tell is how keen he is to sound all statesmanlike.
More seriously, there’s something deeply suspicious about this bit:
Third, the so-called “Cabinet Manual” must be allowed to lapse at the end of this Parliament. The Manual, which was finally published in October 2011 just before his retirement, was a personal project of Cabinet Secretary O’Donnell and of a narrow academic coterie. It proved controversial because some felt it contained novelties masquerading as established conventions, because one draft chapter arguably favoured the development of coalition rule, and because the entire idea of a quasi-constitutional compendium composed by officials was seen in some quarters as a Civil Service “power grab”. The publication shortly before the 2010 of a draft chapter about government formation following a hung election was a subject of special criticism.
By whom, pray? I remember it being well received at the time. Further, the civil service has long had a file on changes of government including the procedures to follow in the event of a hung parliament, and Peter Hennessey discusses it in his book The Prime Minister. I presume the “narrow academic coterie” includes or means Hennessey.
Is someone at Polex trying to change the procedure? The key question is usually under what circumstances a PM who calls an election and doesn’t get a working majority can call another, which is governed by the so-called Lascelles principles. Sir Alan Lascelles’ statement of them, in an anonymous letter to the Times, is as follows:
(1) the existing Parliament was still vital, viable, and capable of doing its job;
(2) a General Election would be detrimental to the national economy;
(3) he could rely on finding another Prime Minister who could carry on his Government, for a reasonable period, with a working majority in the House of Commons
Peter Hennessey, and Sir Gus O’Donnell, both hold that point 2) was dropped from the civil service handbook on the change of government some time between 1950 and the present day.
Consider this. At some point between here and 2015, the Lib Dems drop out of the coalition or split. David Cameron wants to stay as prime minister, perhaps fighting on as a minority government or trying to stick to some “National Liberal” splinter group. If there is a general election, obviously, he will be swept away. Or perhaps there is an election and somehow he doesn’t quite lose. I can certainly see how appealing to the state of the economy as a reason not to have an election might be attractive. We must not spook the markets!
But this is surely no decision for some bunch of risible wanktank chancers to get involved in.