A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Collective Responsibility

I'm a little confused about the noises coming from around my party's Deputy Leader.

According to Harriet Harman's "supporter" Sally Keeble MP (and why would you have backbench "supporters" speaking on your behalf to the media unless you were up to something?) "Harriet has distinct views and speaks out for them".

I thought though that in the UK system of government we had a doctrine of Cabinet collective responsibility which meant that Ministers never expressed their own, distinct views and spoke out on them, but instead debated matters in private in Cabinet and publicly supported Cabinet decisions - to the extent that no one should ever know the individual views of specific Ministers.

Surely what Ms Keeble meant to say is "Harriet is a loyal member of the Government and I have no idea if she privately disagrees with some government policies as she would never be so indiscreet as to undermine her boss the PM, her colleagues or the collective position of the Cabinet by letting her individual views be known."

Politicalbetting.com is right to point repeatedly to Harriet's win in the Deputy Leadership election as evidence that she would be the front runner to win a Leadership election if a vacancy existed (assuming Alan Johnson doesn't develop a sudden enthusiasm for campaigning to win which he seemed to so distinctly lack in the 2007 Deputy race). That's one of the main reasons why I don't want a vacancy to exist - partly because I don't like some of Harriet's politics (which carry a little too much baggage from her 1980s youth for my liking) and partly because, as commenters on PB.com have also stated, in a kind of mirror image of the Republican adoration of Sarah Palin, the appeal she has amongst Labour electoral college voters is not one that is expected to translate into electability with the wider British public.

The one way Harriet could really damage her chances of getting the top job is by being seem to undermine Brown. Labour doesn't like disloyalty. As Michael Heseltine observed, "he [or she?] who wields the knife seldom wears the crown."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The media and her 'supporters' are going OTT when they talk about her popularity amongst the party grassroots. Her margin of victory in the deputy leadership election was modest, to say the least. I think/hope that she would get a nasty surprise if she assumes she'd be able to easily win a leadership contest.

7:15 pm, February 18, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke has the Evening Standard change since you posted this, because it doesn't quote Sally Keeble saying that at all?

This is what I read:

Ms Harman's supporters today said the Equalities Minister was the victim of a whispering campaign.

Labour MP Sally Keeble said: "If Harriet was preparing to mount a leadership campaign it would be obvious to people like me but she is not.

"The most damaging thing would be internecine warfare at high levels of the party."

Another ally said: "Harriet has distinct views and speaks out for them - she does not plot behind the scenes."

7:17 pm, February 18, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Yes they have changed the attribution of the quote I think. Has anyone got a cache of the original version?

8:15 pm, February 18, 2009

Blogger Will Parbury said...

Have just tweeted this @tweet4labour

8:32 pm, February 18, 2009

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

The 'other Harman ally' seems to make a perfectly valid point. (I say this as someone - who for entirely different reasons - would be more-or-less as unenthusiastic about a Harman campaign should a vacancy appear some time in the future as you would be). Collective responsibility does not bar people from having distinct views and speaking out for them. It means ministers should neither attempt to take personal credit for - nor absolve themselves of responsibility for - cabinet decisions. If it was intimated that Harriet Harman was publically slagging government policy then she would indeed be guilty of breaking collective responsibility (though I have to say that sometimes collective responsibility ought to be broken, and then it is an issue for the Prime Minister whether or not he chooses to 'enforce' it) - but having distinct views from the Prime Minister (or other ministers) on issues where there government has not reached an agreed line is surely nothing but natural?

8:49 pm, February 18, 2009

Blogger Merseymike said...

But on the topic of the banks - she's right

1:01 am, February 19, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Duncan Hall said...

Collective responsibility does not bar people from having distinct views and speaking out for them."

It might if, as in Hackney, you have Luke as your Whip!

9:09 pm, February 19, 2009


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