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THE CABINET

We turn next to the other element in the working machine of government, the Cabinet, or policy−directing

body, which is the very pivot of our whole system. Two main functions fall to the Cabinet. In the first place, it

has to ensure an effective co−ordination between the various departments of government; in the second place,

it is responsible for the initiation and guidance of national policy in every sphere, subject to the watchful but

friendly control of Parliament.

Long experience has shown that there are several conditions which must be fulfilled if a Cabinet is to perform

these functions satisfactorily. In the first place, its members must, among them, be able to speak for every

department of government; failing this, the function of co−ordination cannot be effectively performed. This

principle was discarded in the later stages of the war, when a small War Cabinet was instituted, from which

most of the ministers were excluded. The result was confusion and overlapping, and the attempt to remedy

these evils by the creation of a staff of liaison officers under the control of the Prime Minister had very

imperfect success, and in some respects only added to the confusion. In the second place, the Cabinet must be

coherent and homogeneous, and its members must share the same ideals of national policy. National business

cannot be efficiently transacted if the members of the Cabinet are under the necessity of constantly arguing

about, and making compromises upon, first principles. That is the justification for drawing the members of a

Cabinet from the leaders of a single party, who think alike and understand one another's minds. Whenever this

condition has been absent, confusion, vacillation and contradiction have always marked the conduct of public

affairs, and disastrous results have followed.

In the third place, the procedure of the Cabinet must be intimate, informal, elastic, and confidential; every

member must be able to feel that he has played his part in all the main decisions of policy, whether they

directly concern his department or not, and that he is personally responsible for these decisions. Constitutional

usage has always prescribed that it is the duty of a Cabinet Minister to resign if he differs from his colleagues

on any vital matter, whether relating to his department or not, and this usage is, in truth, the main safeguard for the preservation of genuine conjoint responsibility, and the main barrier against irresponsible action by a

Prime Minister or a clique. When the practice of resignation in the sense of giving up office is replaced by the

other kind of resignation−−shrugging one's shoulders and letting things slide−−the main virtue of Cabinet

government has been lost. In the fourth place, in order that every minister may fully share in every important

discussion and decision, it is essential that the Cabinet should be small. Sir Robert Peel, in whose ministry of

1841−6 the system probably reached perfection, laid it down that nine was the maximum number for

efficiency, because not more than about nine men can sit round a table in full view of one another, all taking a

real share in every discussion. When the membership of a Cabinet largely exceeds this figure, it is inevitable

that the sense of joint and several responsibility for every decision should be greatly weakened.