October 27, 2011
by Frederick Cowell
You may have missed it but God resigned last week. Don’t worry there won’t be four horsemen of the apocalypse thundering over the horizon – God in this case is the acronym of Sir Gus O’Donnell the Cabinet Secretary who after nearly six years at the head of the Civil Service is stepping down. His resignation and replacement has marked the most significant constitutional reform the government has undertaken to date but it has fallen squarely into the category of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it news story.
The traditional role of the Cabinet Secretary, since 1916, is three fold; firstly he (and it has always been a ‘he’) sitting at the Prime Ministers right hand side runs the Cabinet, minuting the proceedings in long hand. Secondly he is head of the home civil service and finally, and perhaps most controversially, he is the permanent advisor to the Office of the Prime Minister. They are not Alistair Campbell like figures they advise Prime Minsters of all stripes; Robin Butler served as Cabinet Secretary for Thatcher, Major and Blair. The Cabinet Secretary exists to join government together and acts as a giant signal box for the Prime Minister to convey his instructions and orders to the Civil Service machine and is a living embodiment of the UK’s unwritten constitution. Read more of this post