Lord Green and the Problems of ‘Outsider’ Ministers

According to the FT’s Westminster Blog, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, the Coalition’s new trade minister has agreed to vote in line with the Conservative party—but he has chosen not to become a member of the Tories or the Lib Dems. Shades of Lord Digby Jones, a businessman who was appointed as the UK’s Minister of State for Trade and Investment during Gordon Brown’s premiership. Lord Jones also refused to take the Labour whip, causing much consternation at the time. It didn’t help that Lord Jones left after a year, after having complained about the dehumanising experience of being a junior minister, and being very disparaging about civil servants.  Ouch.

The Constitution Unit will soon publish a report on ‘outsider ministers’—those people who are initially non-parliamentarians who are appointed to ministerial posts because of their expertise. In the report, Putting Goats amongst the Wolves, we discuss the experience of these ‘outsiders’. Brought into government, these men and women, usually highly successful in the ‘non-political world’, often found it difficult to adapt to being in government, and often left quickly. Not because they were incompetent—but because they were thrown in the deep end with little guidance, and because they faced resentment from the rank-and-file who believed that only parliamentarians (and preferably elected parliamentarians) should take ministerial office.

We interviewed over 20 individuals, mostly peer ministers and those who had dealt with the outsider ministers. From this we derived a number of recommendations to aid in the integration of outsiders. A key recommendation was that outsiders should be prepared to join the governing political party. This would indicate they have a long term commitment, and help to build trust with their fellow parliamentarians.

Lord Green may have a hard time ahead: coalition government tends to intensify the division between the frontbench from the backbench—refusing to be a member of either coalition party is not going to make Lord Green’s life any easier. And his refusal to join the party gives Tory backbenchers yet another reason to gripe to David Cameron.

For more information on the Ministers from outside Parliament project, watch this space:

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/research/parliament/ministers-outside-parliament2

The Constitution Unit is also beginning a project on coalition governance. For more information, see here:

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/research/coalition-government

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