What is the 'Core Executive'?
The Core Executive is seen by political scientists as the relationships at the heart of government decision-making where key policies are created and conflicts between different parts of Government are sorted out, such how English votes for English laws could be carried out or how much extra funding to give the NHS.
It does include a number of institutions but is best thought of a web of relationships between key people and institutions at the centre of Government power. The main elements are:-
- The Prime Minister and the Prime Minister’s Office. The latter consists of a Chief of Staff, civil servants and political advisers and units who manage the Prime Minister’s contact with the rest of the Core Executive and the Prime Minister’s party and look at policy issues that the Prime Minister is interested in. The office also deals with the media. The Prime Minister’s closest advisers such as Marcia Williams during Harold Wilson’s Premiership and Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s Press Officer can, while still clearly subordinate to the PM, become very influential people.
- The Cabinet and the Cabinet Office. Although the main Government ministers meet weekly as the formal Cabinet, more important will be the informal meetings between Ministers and between Ministers and the Prime Minister, of the sort that Tony Blair was particularly keen on, to discuss issues. This allows them to sort out disputes and also to let the Prime Minister know about policies of which they approve or disapprove. For example, the relationship between David Cameron and George Osborne is particularly close and they will plan Government strategy. Other PM’s, such as John Major, have been more ready to have issues discussed in the formal Cabinet meetings. The Coalition instituted the Quad which was the informal meetings of David Cameron and George Osborne for the Conservatives and Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander for the Liberal Democrats where they discussed issues that might lead to disagreement between the two Coalition parties.
- The Cabinet Office is headed by the Cabinet Secretary who is the chief civil service adviser to the Prime Minister and between them they decide which issues should be discussed by the Cabinet. The Cabinet Office picks up disagreements between Government Departments and also ensures that Departments carry out the decisions made in the Core Executive
- Cabinet Committees. As Government business became too large to be properly decided in the Cabinet, during and after the Second World War, a system of Committees of the Cabinet developed. These consist of a smaller number of Ministers and sometimes also the Prime Minister. Some are more or less permanent, such as those dealing with Economic Affairs or European Affairs, others are set up to deal with a current topic, such as that in the last Government on how to continue the legacy of the London Olympics. Decisions are now signed off by the Chair of the Cabinet Committee after discussion there and will only be notified to other Cabinet Ministers.
- The Treasury has always been more powerful than other Government Departments. As well as managing economic policy it also looks at proposed spending by Government Departments and may decide to veto their proposals. The agreement between Blair and Brown that Blair would become PM, if Labour won the 1997 election, but Brown, as Chancellor, would have influence over policy, made the Treasury more powerful , as did the Coalition’s austerity programme which meant that the Treasury would control Departmental spending even more closely.
- The Whips Office. This is based in Parliament and manages the Government’s MPs and ensures that Government business is voted through. The Chief Whip is a member of the Cabinet and advises the PM if the Government’s backbenchers are unhappy about a policy. The Whips meet weekly to discuss any problems in getting legislation through and talk continually to the Government’s backbench MPs to get their views. .
- At times and for political reasons, there has been a Deputy Prime Minister and a Deputy Prime Minister’s Office. John Prescott, representing the more traditional parts of the Labour Party, was given a separate office when Tony Blair was Prime Minister. As the leader of the other Coalition party, the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg became Deputy Prime Minister with an office which checked what decisions are likely to be taken across Government to make sure that Liberal Democrats are happy with them. Nick Clegg also decided which Liberal Democrats will be in the Cabinet and kept in touch with them and with the Liberal Democrat party.