This book explores how the governmental elites in Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa understand their Westminster system. It examines in detail four interrelated features of Westminster systems. Firstly, the increasing centralisation in collective, responsible cabinet government. Second, the constitutional convention of ministerial and collective responsibility. Third, the role of a professional, non-partisan public service. And finally, parliament's relationship to the executive. The authors explain the changes that have occured in the Westminster model by analysing four traditions: royal prerogative, responsible government, constitutional bureaucracy, and representative government. They suggest that each tradition has a recurring dilemma, between centralisation and decentralisation, party government and ministerial responsibility, professionalisation and politicisation, and finally elitism and participation. They go on to argue that these dilemmas recur in four present-day debates: the growth of prime ministerial power, the decline in individual and collective ministerial accountability, politicisation of the public service, and executive dominance of the legislature. They conclude by identifying five meanings of - or narratives about - Westminster. Firstly, 'Westminster as heritage' - elite actors' shared governmental narrative understood as both precedents and nostalgia. Second, 'Westminster as political tool' - the expedient cloak worn by governments and politicians to defend themselves and criticise opponents. Third, 'Westminster as legitimising tradition' - providing legitimacy and a context for elite actions, serving as a point of reference to navigate this uncertain world. Fourth, 'Westminster as institutional category' - it remains a useful descriptor of a loose family of governments with shared origins and characteristics. Finally, 'Westminster as an effective political system' - it is a more effective and efficient political system than consensual parliamentary governments. Westminster is a flexible family of ideas that is useful for many purposes and survives, even thrives, because of its meaning in use to élite actors.
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accountability actors administrative appointed argued Assembly Australia Australian Senate authority beliefs and practices Blair Britain British cabinet government cabinet solidarity Canada Canadian central centre challenges chapter Chrétien civil service collective responsibility colonies committees consensus democracies constitutional bureaucracy conventions core executive countries court politics critics Crown debate decisions democracy departments developed dilemmas doctrine dominance dominions effect elected electoral elite example executive government federal formal formal–legal functions government’s head Helen Clark Howard individual institutions interpretations Labour leaders leadership legislation legislature lower house majoritarian majority minister and cabinet ministerial responsibility mixed member proportional Northcote–Trevelyan opposition parliament parliamentary sovereignty party government Patapan policy advice politicians president presidential prime minister prime ministerial principles provinces public servants public service questions reform representation representative resign responsible government Rhodes role rules secretary Senate senior South Africa term traditions voting Weller Westminster model Westminster systems Winston Peters Zealand