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Douglas Carswell's Blog

04 JAN 2013

Sir Humphrey rules. It is sad, not funny

David Cameron could not have been clearer. Back in February 2006, he made it clear that the House of Commons should have the ultimate power to decide if Britain should go to war.

"The time has come to look at those powers exercised by Ministers under the Royal Prerogative" he said. When government makes important decisions – like "going to war, or agreeing international treaties", there ought to be a "formal mechanism for consulting the nation's elected representatives".

This announcement didn't come out of the blue. It was part of a coherent approach to reform; Parliament was to be made more accountable to the people, and government was to be made more accountable to Parliament.

Cameron understood – like Tony Benn before him - that Crown Prerogative powers were not simply some sort of quaint historic hang up. They often serve to shield the Sir Humphreys from democratic scrutiny. Without change, the Whitehall machine could continue to run itself, making its own appointments, and carrying on regardless of what those we actually vote for think.

So guess what? The Sir Humphreys hate the prospect of change.

If we were to give the Commons the ultimate say over whether we go to war, what next? Those pesky MPs might challenge the appointment of mandarins?  That tight little circle of Permanent Secretaries that really runs Whitehall might have to start to explain themselves. 

Unsurprisingly, in today's Times, we learn how "officials have struggled to draw up a Bill" (how do they manage it in Holland or the United States, eh?). And various grandees have been lined up to tell us how irresponsible it would be to let those we elect decide such things.

The self-serving Whitehall machine is now moving to quash attempts by the elected government to implement a reform for which it has a democratic mandate. This is how our country is run.

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