Does it matter where the Cabinet is held?

by Stephen Tall on August 4, 2008

One of the more bizarre headlines today was from the BBC, Cabinet ‘may go to West Midlands’:

Gordon Brown will hold his first cabinet meeting after MPs’ long summer break outside London – most likely in the West Midlands. A Downing Street spokesman said the gathering was set for 8 September.

Ministers will also be taking part in a range of other events in the region on the day to give them an opportunity to “engage” with the public.

The spokesman said the move was part of the government’s commitment to “listen and learn” from people’s experiences.

Let’s move beyond the easy quips about the cabinet ‘being sent to Coventry’, and ask ourselves is this a gimmick, or a move worth making?

Gimmick: it’s easy to dismiss it as mere tokenism. But, then, a surprising amount of tokenism ends up in the mainstream. It’s undoubtedly true that much of what passes these days for the establishment is London-obsessed, and imagines the other municpalities to be full of feral chavs (except perhaps for the nice parts of Leeds, Manchester or Birmingham). At least the cabinet convening there might force the media to recognise that political stuff happens outside the M25 other than at party conferences.

Worth doing: but, really, what difference does convening one meeting outside of London make? It’s not as if the cabinet will be open to the public to address. If No. 10 really wanted to be innovative, they’d make this a Town Hall meeting, and invite half a dozen randomly selected folk to put their questions to the cabinet on camera rather than in camera. All we’ll get from this is a press release and some photo ops to prop up a few Labour marginals.

If Labour is going to attempt localism, I’m all for it. But why can’t I help thinking this idea sprang forth not from any sense of liberal idealism but a cynical attempt to capture the regional media for some well-primed media exposure?

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Danny Alexander MP will tell you proudly about the room in his constituency where Lloyd George hosted the only previous meeting of the Cabinet outside London…

by Jeremy Hargreaves on August 5, 2008 at 12:27 am. Reply #

Its a stunt but no more of a stunt than calling for Gordon to boycott the Olypics closing ceremony to be boycotted.

Serious gesture? make it Lib Dem policy to send a reformed second chamber to a regional english city. A Senate on the Aire rather than the Tiber. Though anyone that has watched Yes, Minister will know why it will never happen.

by David Morton on August 5, 2008 at 1:13 am. Reply #

In the Lib Dem authority I work for we started to move all our meetings around the district when we took control to demonstrate that we took other parts seriously, not just our ‘heartland’. We stopped because it proved to be quite expensive, inconvenient and the opposition (Tories) also kept bleating on about it. So much for Tories seeking to be inclusive.

I quite like this idea and, gimmick or no gimmick, it rightly recognises our second city, which is often overlooked.

For my money any sensible government would move out of London lock, stock and barrel and open up No.10, Parliament and the Treasury as museums to fleece the Americans with.

We could then have purpose built offices and chambers which might drag us into the 20th century, possibly even the 21st.

Somewhere anonymous like Milton Keynes or Northampton would be ideal, as long as there’s a good train station.

The problem is of course that this would require a government to be ‘sensible’…

by wit and wisdom on August 5, 2008 at 10:31 am. Reply #

Interesting. And how does this fit with the idea of a September reshuffle? Reshuffle before the picnic near Birmingham and Gordon Brown leaves the reshuffle losers to plot in Westminster. Reshuffle after, and what will the West Midlands media say? Or is it a first sign that Mr Brown has dithered away from the reshuffle he signalled?

On the more substantial point, shifting the core of UK government from Westminster to Milton Keynes or one of the new “ecotowns” seems to me an excellent idea. But the vested interests who will oppose it make the effort not really worthwhile.

by David Heigham on August 5, 2008 at 12:44 pm. Reply #

You know, I reckon that taking on vested interests was one of the key reasons I became a LD 😉

by wit and wisdom on August 5, 2008 at 1:00 pm. Reply #

Surely it doesnt matter where the cabinet meets, as there will be soo much security around them, that the public still wont be able to get close to them

by Stephen on August 5, 2008 at 3:03 pm. Reply #

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