Goats were thrown to the Wolves under Labour

Press Release: Goats were thrown to the Wolves under Labour

The experience under Labour of appointing some ministers from outside Parliament suggests no easy answer to a new call from MPs to reduce the number of ministers in the so-called “ payroll vote” in the Commons. The recommendation is made today (Thursday 10 March) in a report, “Smaller Government: What Should Ministers do?” by the Commons Public Administration Select Committee.

In the last Labour government, ministers appointed from outside Parliament were given little or no induction and many of them were critical of the lack of clear delegation or objectives. The result was sheer overload—one former minister describing office as “the most exhausting job I’d ever done. It was relentless.”

This is the main finding of the Constitution Unit’s report Putting Goats amongst the Wolves: Appointing Ministers from outside Parliament just published. The study takes its starting point Gordon Brown’s decision to appoint half a dozen Ministers from outside Parliament in order to build a ‘government of all the talents’ – leading such Ministers to be called ‘Goats’. The study set out to explore the arguments for appointing ministers from outside Parliament, and to study the experience of such appointees.

Dr Ben Yong, co-author of the report along with Professor Robert Hazell says: “Under the coalition, there are currently only a small number of ‘outsider ministers’ in the Lords, and it seems unlikely that David Cameron will make more appointments in the numbers seen under Gordon Brown.”

Yong adds: “More thought needs to be given to what ministers can realistically be expected to do, and what they should not do. We have been told of ministerial overload, while on the other hand, former ministers such as Chris Mullin have talked of ‘empty’ ministerial posts. The need to define more clearly the functions of junior ministers especially has become even more pressing, given the government’s plan to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600. In such circumstances, will it still be necessary to have 123 ministers, or one-fifth of Parliament in government?”

The report was funded by Peter Scott QC. It can be found here:


Notes for Editors

  • The Public Administration Select Committee is currently holding an inquiry on ‘Smaller Government: What do Ministers do?’, with the final report due to be published shortly.
  • Brian Walker is the Unit’s Press Officer who can be contacted on 07802 176347.
  • The Constitution Unit is an independent and non-partisan research centre within the Department of Political Science at University College London.

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:


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