"In my view the Cabinet is not the right body in which to attempt to make difficult decisions. Since at least the late Seventies the Cabinet has been used to ratify decisions rather than to take them."
Those are the words of Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's former chief of staff. Doesn't that tell you all you need to know about the way the country has been governed over the last twelve years. I don't detect that anything has changed since Gordon Brown took over. I do so hope that things will be different under David Cameron and we can get back to proper cabinet government. The Cabinet is indeed there to take decisions, not just ratify them.
But let's not just put all the blame on Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. A Cabinet is only as strong as the people appointed to it. If they are willing to lie down and have their stomachs tickled, rather than challenge and debate, then it is they who should receive our opprobrium, rather than Blair and Brown.
Powell says Cabinet Government has been run this way since the late 1970s. This is complete rubbish. No one who knows anything about the Major government could seriously suggest that his Cabinet was run in this manner. And there are a lot of myths about the way Margaret Thatcher ran her Cabinet. I accept that in her latter years there was a tendency to treat it as an instrument of ratification, but you only have to read the memoirs of her ministers and the academic analyses of the time to know that there were some fairly fearsome arguments. Just because she led from the front, that didn't mean she always got her way.
Conservative Cabinet Ministers need to start as they mean to go on if and when they take over. Perhaps they all need a lecture from Professor Peter Hennessy in the art of proper cabinet government.