Covid-19 has had the biggest impact on British life since peacetime. Long established traditions are being thrown into the bonfire of expediency in the wake of the devastating pandemic. The latest facet of normal life to vanish is the long held practice of holding Britain’s cabinet meetings inside an actual cabinet.
Liberal Prime minister David Lloyd George was the first Prime minister to hold cabinet meetings inside the titular piece of furniture – saying of the then controversial decision that it would “aid the effective and just distribution of executive authority which as elected representatives we are obliged to provide to the British people.” While met with derision at the time, the cabinet meeting has become an essential part of the British constitutional process – as edifying to the national political consciousness as the mock theatre of Prime Minister’s Questions.
Political theorist Edgar Beaumont III said in 1974 that ‘by stuffing the nation’s premier statesmen into the awkward confines of the particularly fine antique cabinet residing at Number 10, the realities of politics – so often incomprehensible to the ordinary subject – are lent refreshing clarity.”
However, with several members of the cabinet – including Prime Minister Boris Johnson – contracting the novel Coronavirus, it has been decided on the advice of Public Health England to start holding meetings in a larger piece of furniture.
The Surgeon-General issued the following statement today: ‘We appreciate the appealing symbolism of holding the meeting inside the cabinet. However, as it is it is impossible to maintain a two metre distance of separation between ministers, we suggest that the government might consider using a wardrobe, or even a large cupboard of the sort usually reserved for storing cleaning supplies such as mops and brooms.’
Someone likely to be pleased by the change is top government advisor Dominic Cummings, who had derided the cabinet meetings as ‘A stuffy old ritual, gumming and gooing up the cogs of government,’ in his blog.
However for many, the change in policy is a further reminder of the changed reality of the time we live in.