Last night, there was much angst on Twitter about Jeremy Browne’s performance on Question Time. We were at points faced with the farcical situation where Jeremy was blocked into defending the government position, when all others were against it and indeed against the party line. Especially on the issue of control orders. Frankly, I feel sorry for him. It wasn’t a position that I’d have liked to be put in and it wasn’t an easy position for him to fight back from.
But here’s the dilemma. Liberal Democrat Ministers, no longer speak for the party. Even when they’re on Question Time. By the same measure, neither do Conservative Ministers. So even though we may want them to defend the party to the hilt, it’s an improbable request at best. Under the requirements of the principle of Collective Responsibility, Government Ministers must stick to the government line, or they must resign.
It’s a simple concept and one that has held the Executive Branch of our government together through the toughest of situations. That decisions are taken together and if you can’t stomach them, you resign. And when in public, you join your colleagues in backing them & arguing for them, even if you personally are against it.
The purpose of the principle is essentially that if a vote of no confidence is passed in parliament, the government is responsible collectively, and thus the entire government resigns. It also ensures that the Government is able to act in a unified & co-ordinated manner to present a united front to both Parliament & the electorate.
Of course the protocol has never come under quite such a strain as it has done over the last six months and will do over the next 4 and a half years, there are serious policy & ideological schisms within the Cabinet and between ministers and indeed, this is why this principle is even more important than ever. The only way for the government to function, is as a unit. If we allow every disagreement & alternative policy to be aired freely, not only will government grind to a halt in a whirlwind of backstabbing & empire building, but likely the coalition will fall apart.
What we do need to do a better job of though, as a party and a government is explain why Ministers now seem to be backing policies they publically derided before the election. We need to explain to the electorate that Ministers have to back every decision of the government, regardless of their personal & party views.
Lastly, we need to be doing a much better job of fighting back and defining our identity within the coalition, because quite frankly, both the party and the government are taking too much flak from the press & the Labour Party and we’re taking it lying down. If we’re to get through the next four and a half years in good health, we need to start doing it fast too.