|Draft Cabinet Manual|
I am currently lying in a very comfortable, adjustable, and crisp sheeted bed in hospital. I have today invested in a mobile wireless dongle so i can keep you all updated of my thoughts. So in future you won't even get a break from me when i am ill! Lucky you :D
Anyway, i have been catching up on my podcasts while soaking up the atmosphere of Ward 27, one of which is Today in Parliament , dated 25th March 2011.
At the beginning of the month i talked about the new Cabinet Manual and some risks associated with it. Lets be reminded that the cabinet manual is written by the civil service, working on behalf of the government, and one part of the document will list formally, for the first time, constitutional conventions. Lets also be reminded that constitutional conventions are not written down as such, and exist by consent of those effected by them. When they are no longer needed, those who were effected by the particular convention just stop observing it. Easy.
In my first article about the cabinet manual i was concerned that it would undermine constitutional conventions because it would have them written down. This, in itself, doesn't make it binding of course. My concern is that it would become binding by either custom, or a process of natural normalisation, or by the political heavyweight that I think the manual will become.
I have seen the first evidence of normalisation and custom effecting the manual. The presenter of Today in Parliament was discussing the governments commitment to enshrine in law the requirement for a vote on any military action by British forces. He listed 3 ways the government might go about that; Firstly was a 'War Powers Bill', second was a Resolution of the House. Thirdly, you guessed it, its inclusion in the Cabinet Manual. The Cabinet Manual was described as "...the new rule book for government which would require a vote in the commons [before military action could be taken]".
So he could have just misunderstood what the manual means right? Yes, and its this misunderstanding that is the first step towards normalisation of its binding nature. Once political commentators start to see the cabinet manual as a binding document, it will start to be taken as fact. Will the Civil Service or the Government correct us? Its unlikely, why would they want to give away this new unexpected power that is sneaking in under the publics radar?
I am prepared to be proven wrong on this as the weeks, months and years pass, but at the moment i am bathing in my 'i told you so' swimming pool