Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The First Lord of the Treasury's First and Last Act

Nigel Fletcher has an interesting blogpost...
With all the focus today on the technicalities of the handover of power, a
fellow blogger has dropped me a line to point out that a quirk of today's events
has seen Gordon Brown apparently retaining his job as Chancellor as well as
Prime Minister. One of his first acts on returning from the Palace, according to
the afternoon lobby briefing, was to appoint Tony Blair 'Steward of the Chiltern
Hundreds' - the constitutional device for an MP to resign their seat. However,
the token appointment is traditionally one for the Treasury, and the press
notice from his old office therefore stated: "The Chancellor of the Exchequer
has this day appointed the Right Honourable Anthony Charles Lynton Blair to be
Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern." (Source).

So it seems until he appoints Alistair Darling to the role tomorrow,
Gordon Brown is still technically Chancellor. Even more interesting, as in his
budget speech this year he began with a joke: 'I am told that in the past two
centuries only one Chancellor before now has delivered 11 Budgets, and then a
12th. That was when Mr. Gladstone combined the positions of Chancellor and Prime
Minister, something no one should ever contemplate doing again'. So - the
Brown government is not yet a day old, and we already have his first U-turn!

22 comments:

Tone made me do it - he's a bad influence said...

The Chilterns have had enough of Blair - he pretty much lived at Chequers. We certainly don't want him as Steward to our Hundreds, which is a job that lasts until someone else applies for it.

Tone made me do it - he's a bad influence said...

Right now, on Westminster Green its pissing down on the MSM's Big Tent.

dizzy said...

I don't think assessment is technically correct. Technically, when Blair met the Queen he resigned his Government, not just him.

Therefore, that act removes every Minister from office, including Brown from the Office of Chancellor. As no announcement has been made by Brown about the office of Chancellor it remains empty, and merely a conceptual position.

In fact, I think technically, no legislation can actually pass until he announces his Cabinet. As there are no head of any departments to carry it out. Earlier on when Vera Baird was in the Commons in her ministerial role she actually wasn't a minister.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Dizzy. According to Butterworth's technically the Monarch is head of the executive and "may also appoint certain of her ministers by merely giving the seals of office into their hands, and dismiss them by merely requiring them to return the seals to her." Until he returns his seals of office Brown remain Chancellor of the Exchequer.

err. actually i think you'll find... said...

Yaaawwnn. Get over it, he's made it to Downing Street, he got one of your MPs, he's rebounded in the polls, and you can console yourselves with pedantry all you like, but it ain't going to change a thing.

Cheers! hic...

mark williams said...

Re: Anonymous/dizzy.

The convention after losing a vote of no confidence or an election is that every member of the government resigns when the prime minister resigns, but I can't see any evidence that anybody else has resigned. The Downing Street website shows all of the cabinet positions barring PM as "To be confirmed", not "vacant" which might be taken as implying that there is still a minister in power albeit that Brown is about to name another. Useful to know, just incase we have a Civil Contingency in the next 12 hours.

Anonymous said...

As I understand it, the PM only offers his government's resignation after an election or no-confidence defeat - what happened today is a single resignation triggering what is technically a reshuffle (see the back of John Major's autobiog for an example). However, once Brown was asked to form a government, all the places were then vacant.

But didn't Brown actually appoint Blair to the Chiltern Hundreds before Blair resigned as PM (no problem with that) when Brown was indisputably Chancellor?

All the stuff about seals of office is bunk. The only two with seals are the Lord Chancellor (the Great Seal) and the Lord Privy Seal (the Privy Seal).

Unity said...

And any man who can seal the privy deserves a considerable amount of respect.

I think Iain actually has the correct technical interpretation here - only the PM resigned his office, the government did not go with him, and prior ministerial appointments remain technically in force until a new PM is appointed and begins to exercise the royal prerogative to make his/her own appointments.

Brown has, therefore, technically been both PM and Chancellor, not that that makes Iain's U-turn comment anything other that a bit feeble and it could really have done with a smilie rather than a exclamation mark to indicate humourous intent.

Anonymous said...

I think you will find that each Secretary of State has a seal.

According to the Privy Council website "Following a General Election the Secretariat, being responsible for arranging the appointments of Secretaries of State and other members of the cabinet, arranged a Privy Council on Saturday 7th May at which new Secretaries of State received their Seals of Office from Her Majesty the Queen."

According to Butternworth's "The seals which a Secretary of State controls are the signet, a second secretarial seal and the cachet. The signet is affixed in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to instruments which authorise the affixing of the Great Seal to powers to treat and to ratifications of treaties, and also to commissions and instructions to colonial governors. The second secretarial seal is affixed to royal warrants and to commissions, and is employed only in the Home Office. The cachet is affixed to envelopes of letters addressed personally by the monarch to the head of a foreign state"

dizzy said...

ahh constitutional pedantry :)

dizzy said...

my work here is done

Adrian Yalland said...

So, when the Queen asked Brown to 'form a government' today, what exactly did that mean? Was the old Government intact? Does Brown inherit the existing GOvernment and simply reshuffle it? Or does all the old Government effectively cease to be until Brown appoints his cabinet?

Where's Roger Scruton? He'd know I am sure.

Anonymous said...

Lets face it. Our constitution is not written down which is why it has been so easy to change it and ignore it over the last ten years. Its a fluid thing that is bent to the purpose for which those in power wish to use it on any given day.

Arguing over seals is neither here nor there. Brown has the keys to number ten and that is that.

mark williams said...

.... but the important thing is that members of the cabinet who continue under Brown should not get a 3 month salary bonus for a deemed resignation and reinstatement.

BJ said...

This is intriguing, actually. If there ceased to be a Chancellor of the Exchequer at the moment that Gordon Brown agreed to form a government, I wonder whether the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury was and is, in strict constitutional terms, temporarily the Chancellor?

I wondered about Vera Baird, too. Will Alan Johnson be required to answer Education questions at 1030 tomorrow, or will he have a new job? Will there actually be an education secretary? Blimey.

BJ said...

While I'm anorakking on the Commons website, I noticed this little gem taking place on Tuesday 3rd July:

Ten Minute Rule Bill – Pre-Nuptial Agreements Bill – Mr Quentin Davies

Chris Paul said...

Are you sure of, or even remotely confident of, the timeline here Iain? Perhaps the Chancellor did the paperwork in the spare hour he had while the old PM saw the old queen? But naturally enough it was announced later at the press call. That's my theory. No U-Turn. No reverse gear. The Broon is not for turning.

HM Stanley said...

Yet another pedantry note...proof that that Ted Heath had a sense of humour...apparently, on being appointed Lord Privy Seal, he complained that he was neither a lord nor a privy nor a seal...a joke that history buffs would recognise regarding the Holy Toman Emperor...

Reynhard Heydrich said...

The U-turn comment was SO obviously a joke. Are the left in Britain really this obtuse?

Don't be so sensitive lovies...

observer2 said...

The constitutional situation as I understand it was this: once a PM resigns, ministers still hold office: but there is no longer a government. All ministers are responsible to the Queen and the Parliament as individual appointees; but they have no constitutional responsibilty for general policy. This would allow Gordon Brown do make minor routine decisions of this sort.

Adrian Yalland said...

minor routine decisions? So what happens if we get nuked? Who has the finger on the button?

observer2 said...

In that situation, ministers in an interim period would probably be able to do nothing constitutionally. Practically speaking, the very threat of nuclear war would mean that a government would be formed immediately, without any faffing about over constitutional or political factors, in most likely circumstances.