Cabinet manual or constitution?

Written by Staff on 25 February 2011 in News
Sir Gus O'Donnell might make jokes but the draft cabinet manual is set to shape our politics for years to come

To the Institute for Government last night to hear Sir Gus O’Donnell talk about the draft cabinet manual. Not, on the face of it, the most exciting way to spend an evening. There were compensations – excellent nibbles, for instance, and a chance to gawp at some of the UK’s most prominent constitutional experts. If you like that kind of thing.

Flippancy aside though, this was a far more important event than its relatively low profile would suggest. Collecting this kind of information in a single document hints rather closely at the beginnings of a single written constitution for the UK – something the assembled experts were anxious to point out. But, according to Sir Gus’s repeated assertion, the cabinet manual is not intended as such, and is rather a document “by the executive, for the executive” containing a snapshot of “laws, conventions and rules on the operation of government”.

Lord Adonis, director of the Institute for Government, couldn't resist a little dig on this topic at the cabinet secretary's expense however. In his introduction, the former cabinet minister said:

Listening to him, you’d think he was producing a written constitution single-handed

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