As Chris Hope at the Telegraph writes:
Officials were desperate to ensure that the Queen would not be put in the position where she would have to choose between parties to in a bid to help set up a stable government.
The booklet still hasn’t been published and is awaiting ministerial approval before its release. (Sir Gus hopes this will be before Christmas). Interestingly, the manual covers much more than the section on coalition talks: it has around a dozen chapters covering ministers’ relations with Europe, devolved governments, the monarchy, the government, peers, civil servants and councils.
That, some suspect, sounds rather a lot like a draft written constitution.
While Sir Gus pointed out that as head of the civil service he had no view on the merits of a written constitution he admitted that such a document would begin in a similar place by bringing together “certain laws and conventions”.
“In that sense the cabinet manual will be useful very much in its own right, but it will be useful, those in favour of a written constitution I think will start with it, they may not end with it, but they will certainly start with it.”
Graham Allen, who chairs, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, described the manual as a “blockbuster” and warned: “It doesn’t seem to have any moral or legal authority, it lacks legitimacy.”
Allen voiced the concerns of those MPs who believe they were sidelined during the coalition talks at the expenses of civil servants.
“There were 650 MPs elected by the British people who, by the Friday morning, were wholly and utterly irrelevant in this process,” he said.
Andrew Turner, a Tory MP on the committee, pointed out that he would rather have Labour ministers working out how the talks should proceed than civil servants.
Sir Gus’s reponse was uncharacteristically sharp:
“You might want to consider the constitutional position of MPs pre-election and pre-swearing in,” he pointed out.
His point? That honorable members have no powers of any kind at this point in time.