The different political system means we could not replicate it directly—but some general lessons can be drawnby Alexandra Cirone / January 10, 2018 / Leave a comment
This week, Theresa May reshuffled her top team. Or tried to. Much has already been written on the political theatrics—and how it all went wrong. But there’s something else worth discussing: the lack of transparency in cabinet selection in the UK. The vetting process for the US cabinet is much more extensive, and highly visible. While politics across the Atlantic is currently fraught, it is interesting to examine the process in the US system.
In the United States, cabinet members are selected and nominated by the president, and then confirmed by the Senate. The US cabinet is an institution established by custom, rather than by law, and its primary function is to act as an advisory board to the president. Yet cabinet members are still subjected to extensive vetting.
Before even being nominated, candidates must clear preliminary and confidential background checks by the White House, FBI, and Office of Government ethics. Once nominated, candidates are questioned in public hearings, on the record, about their qualifications, temperament, and policy preferences. Importantly, this process also attempts to uncover significant conflicts of interest that could unduly influence the president’s advisors, and serves as a part of the system of checks and balances inherent in a presidential regime.
Importantly, the senate has the power of veto on cabinet appointments. However, the extensive vetting process often means that controversial nominees withdraw or are withdrawn from consideration, before the senate has to vote. While the president can dismiss cabinet members at will, any replacements must be confirmed by the same process, and historically this has rarely happened.
In the UK, cabinet ministers are appointed exclusively by the prime minister. Here, the cabinet is a much more important and influential part of parliamentary government. It meets weekly, and exercises control over policy. It also must operate as a unified actor, for a government can only remain in office as long as it retains the confidence of the House of Commons. Further, the prime minister has more freedom to use ministerial selection as a way to appease factions within their party or coalition, manage party discipline, and ensure representation of diverse interests.
Constitutionally, there are few constraints on ministerial appointment. The number of ministers can vary, as can their responsibilities, and…