Social cohesiveness – the founding principle of parliamentarian government

Social cohesiveness – the founding principle of parliamentarian government

by Pininvest Analysis

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The differences between a parliamentarian- and a presidential system of government are covered exhaustively by constitutionalists but, with politicians pitching their ability to ‘make things happen’, policy-implementation under each system is well worth a thought

Over the past century, these governmental systems, first when confronted with aggressions that might have wiped out the very ‘raison d’être’ of democracy and, later, by taking charge of the expectations vested in welfare states, have grown closer in many ways

But the essence of democracy – of how political structures fit in a free society – remains the sharp edge, making all the difference between parliament and presidential regime

The Anglo-Saxon political culture experiences freedom as the absence of restraint. The society is confident in its cohesiveness and in ‘custom’, ‘the way things ought to be done’, which transcend political structures – in a sense, voters just expect a flexible, almost utilitarian, response from its government where collective action is warranted

In countries where, and when this cohesiveness has been shaken to the core, either by revolutions bringing about long-lasting divisions, or by political discourse making deep social rifts unfathomable, political structures take a very different turn as we discuss in a follow-up analysis

And these differences are source of awkwardness and often deep misunderstanding between steadfast allies, especially in Europe; with Brexit looming, British policy-making in the Cabinet and delivery of policy are prime examples both of the difficulties of ‘making things happen’ and of these misunderstandings


Drawing the line between policy-making and delivery of results

It has never been easy

Impartiality of civil servants, called upon not only to enact governmental decisions but to give policy advice for feasible, realistic outcomes, is often clouded by doubts of their political masters

In Great Britain, the Cabinet Secretary, a powerful office, is the linchpin of this balancing act, serving the Cabinet (i.e. the ministers forming the Government) as a whole and, at the same time, supporting and advising the Prime Minister personally

Innocuous at first blush, the Secretary prepares the agenda and records the decisions of Cabinet meetings

But, on second look, the Cabinet Secretary is in charge of putting the wheels of government in motion, weeding out the waffle of Cabinet non-decisions, the dross of pet projects advocated by one Cabinet Minister or another, the hopeless promises and the media-savvy bubbles

The Prime Minister – and the ministers – undoubtedly support the authority of the Cabinet Secretary, and of the permanent secretaries at departmental level, because they rely on their ability to deliver on political commitments

However, the Prime Minister will be inclined more often than not to call upon political advisors and on political units not simply to catch the mood and to anticipate – but to bend and mold the ‘zeitgeist’ itself

While this opportunity existed early on, with personal advisors to 1916 Prime Minister Lloyd George competing for attention with the Cabinet Secretary, the temptation to skew the news, to promote agendas on false premises and to drown reasonable argument in a barrage of soundbites has only grown, proving irresistible to some political ambitions today

Often unwittingly, certainly in an effort to ‘control’ the agenda, politicians may end up chipping away at the social cohesiveness which is the very foundation of free society which feeds into the checks and balances of government, as it was understood by John Locke

Seen in retrospect, the UK referendum was a mistaken – and failed – attempt to control the political agenda, in the end setting young against old, urbanites against country folk, service-oriented businesses against uncompetitive industries, more educated against less educated, and on it goes…

Clearly, government neglected its primary task of nurturing the very social cohesiveness it is supposed to serve

Nothing much will come out as the UK government stumbles along, wrestling with incompatible expectations, as long as social cohesiveness does not inspire and infuse policy-implementation with strength of purpose - obviously in deeds, not in words only ....

As we will discuss in a follow-up report, the visions of the key founding members of the European Union back in the late ‘50s, France and Germany, are starkly different from UK’s governing principles, influencing the thinking – and the organization principles – of the EU Commission deeply

While sharing the same sense of purpose for policy-implementation and for a successful dialogue

  • the EU needs to speak up to British society directly, in the utilitarian terms the British are fine-tuned to understand from government
  • the British Government needs to recognize the constraints of the Commission as moral guarantor of essential principles

To turn the EU Commission into a willing partner for the British government, to walk the fine line between principled confrontation and sensible compromise, a European ‘Cabinet Secretary’ anyone?