Cabinet of Palmshire

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In the politics of Palmshire, the Cabinet is the collective decision-making body of His Majesty's Government in the Kingdom of Palmshire, composed of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers, the most senior of the government ministers.

Ministers of the Crown, and especially Cabinet Ministers, are selected primarily from the members of the Parliament, by the Prime Minister. Cabinet Ministers are heads of government departments, mostly with the office of "Secretary of State for [function, e.g. Foreign Affairs]". The collective co-ordinating function of the Cabinet is reinforced by the statutory position that all the Secretaries of State jointly hold the same office, and can exercise the same powers.

The Cabinet is the ultimate decision-making body of the executive within the Westminster system of government in traditional constitutional theory.

The Cabinet is the executive committee of His Majesty's Privy Council, a body which had legislative, judicial and executive functions, and whose large membership includes members of the Opposition. Its decisions are generally implemented either under the existing powers of individual government departments, or by Orders-in-Council.

Composition

Cabinet Ministers, like all Ministers, are appointed and may be dismissed by the monarch at pleasure (that is, they may be dismissed without notice or reason given, although normally they are given a courteous option to resign), on the advice of the Prime Minister. The allocation and transfer of responsibilities between ministers and departments is also generally at the Prime Ministers' discretion. The Cabinet has always been led by the Prime Minister, whose paid office as such was traditionally described as merely primus inter pares (first among equals), but today the Prime Minister is clearly the preeminent head of government, with the power to appoint and dismiss Cabinet ministers and to control the Cabinet's agenda. The extent to which the Government is collegial presumably varies with political conditions and individual personalities.

Any change to the composition of the Cabinet involving more than one appointment is customarily referred to as a reshuffle.

The Cabinet Secretary is neither a Secretary of State or other minister, nor a member of the Cabinet, but is the professional Head of His Majesty's Civil Service.

In formal constitutional terms, the Cabinet is a committee of the His Majesty's Most Honorable Privy Council. All Cabinet members are created Privy Councillors on appointment (if they are not already Privy Councillors), but only selected Privy Councillors are appointed to the Cabinet or invited to attend. MPs in the Cabinet therefore use the style "The Right Honorable"; Privy Councillors in the House of Commons place the letters "PC" after their names to distinguish themselves, since all peers are "The Right Honorable" or hold a higher style as of right.

There are some junior members of the Government who are not members of the Cabinet, including Commissioner of Agriculture and Commissioner of Police. Some of them may be Privy Councillors, or may be appointed to the Privy Council as a mark of distinction, without becoming Cabinet Ministers. Equally, some junior ministers below Cabinet level may be invited to all Cabinet meetings as a matter of course. The Attorney General for Palmshire together with the chair of the governing political party, are customarily included, and other members of the Government can be invited at the Prime Minister's discretion, either regularly or ad-hoc.

Other non-members of His Majesty's Government may be permitted by the Prime Minister to attend Cabinet meetings on a regular basis, such as Prime Minister's chief of staff or Prime Minister's Director of Communications.

Meetings of the cabinet

The Cabinet meets on a regular basis, usually weekly on a Thursday morning notionally to discuss the most important issues of government policy, and to make decisions. Despite the custom of meeting on a Thursday, Prime Minister may choose to change it to other day of the week. The length of meetings varies according to the style of the Prime Minister and political conditions, but meetings can be as little as 30 minutes in length, which can suggests announcement or ratification of decisions taken in committee, by informal groups, or in bi-lateral discussions between the Prime Minister and individual colleagues, with discussion in Cabinet itself very limited. The Prime Minister normally has a weekly audience with The Sovereign thereafter.

The Cabinet has numerous sub-committees which focus on particular policy areas, particularly ones which cut across several ministerial responsibilities, and therefore need coordination. These may be permanent committees or set up for a short duration to look at particular issues ("ad hoc committees"). Junior Ministers are also often members of these committees, in addition to Secretaries of State. The transaction of government business through meetings of the Cabinet and its many committees is administered by a small secretariat within the Cabinet Office. Consequent Orders-in-Council are normally made by the Sovereign-in-Council with a quorum of the Privy Council, which meets monthly or ad-hoc.

Parliamentary accountability

There are two key constitutional conventions regarding the accountability of cabinet ministers to the Parliament of Palmshire, cabinet collective responsibility, and individual ministerial responsibility.

These are derived from the fact the members of the cabinet are Members of Parliament, and therefore accountable to the House of which they are a member. The Sovereign will only appoint a Prime Minister whose Government can command the support of the House of Commons, which alone can grant supply to a Government by authorizing taxes; and the House of Commons expects all ministers to be personally accountable to Parliament.

Cabinet collective responsibility means that members of the cabinet make major decisions collectively, and are therefore collectively responsible for the consequences of these decisions. Therefore, no minister may speak against government decisions, and if a vote of no confidence is passed in Parliament, every minister and government official drawn from Parliament is expected to resign from the executive. So, logically, cabinet ministers who disagree with major decisions are expected to resign as, to take a recent example, Lord Dublin did over the election of the Duchess of Rochester in 2011. The principle of collective responsibility is not impaired by the fact that decisions may be made in a cabinet committee rather than by the full cabinet.

Individual ministerial responsibility is the convention that in their capacity as head of department, a minister is personally responsible for the actions and failings of their department. Under circumstances of gross failure in their department, a minister is expected to resign (and may readily be forced to do so by the Prime Minister), while their civil servants remain permanent and anonymous. Perhaps surprisingly, this is relatively rare in practice, perhaps because administrative failure is of less interest to populist elements of the media than personal scandal, and less susceptible to unequivocal proof. The circumstances under which this convention is followed are of course not possible to define strictly, and depend on many other factors. If a minister's reputation is seen to be tarnished by a personal scandal they very often resign.

Parliamentary Questions can be tabled for Ministers in the Parliament, either for written or oral reply. These may be "planted" questions for the advantage of the Government, or antagonistic questions from the Opposition, or may genuinely seek information. Cabinet ministers must respond, either themselves or through a deputy, although the answers do not always fully answer the question. Written answers, which are usually more specific and detailed than oral questions are usually written by a civil servant. Answers to written and oral questions are published in the House of Commons Register.

Parliament cannot dismiss individual ministers (though members or a House may call for their resignation, or formally resolve to reduce their salary by a nominal amount), but the House of Commons is able to determine the fate of the entire Government. If a vote of no confidence in the Government passes, then the Sovereign will seek to restore confidence either by a dissolution of Parliament and the election of a new Prime Minister, or by the acceptance of the resignation of his entire government.

In the Palmshire parliamentary system, the executive is not separate from the legislature, since Cabinet members are drawn from Parliament. Moreover the executive tends to dominate the legislature for a reason:

  • Collective Ministerial Responsibility requires members of the government to vote with the government on votes, or else resign their position.

The combined effect of the Prime Minister's ability to control Cabinet by circumventing effective discussion in Cabinet and the executive's ability to dominate parliamentary proceedings places the Palmshire Prime Minister in a position of great power. The relative impotence of Parliament to hold the Government of the day to account is often cited by the Palmshire media as a justification for the vigor with which they question and challenge the Government.

The power that a Prime Minister has over his or her Cabinet colleagues is directly proportional to the amount of support that they have with their political parties and this is often related to whether the party considers them to be an asset or liability. Further when a party is divided into factions a Prime Minister may be forced to include other powerful party members in the Cabinet for party political cohesion.

Current Cabinet

Portfolio Name Party affiliation Notes
Prime Minister
First Lord of the Treasury
The Rt. Hon. Chris D PC Socialist
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Second Lord of the Treasury
The Rt Hon. Neo PC Socialist
Home Secretary Vacant
Foreign Secretary Vacant
Leader of the House of Lords Vacant
Leader of the House of Commons Vacant
Leader of the House of Commons Vacant
Lord President of the Council Vacant
First Lord of the Admiralty Vacant