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The Government: Formation, Responsibilities, and Civil Service


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Forming a Government

The Prime Minister: The Prime Minister is the person most capable of commanding a majority in the House of Commons. This can be accomplished by winning an outright majority at an election, forming a coalition between two or more parties, or establishing a formal or tacit confidence and supply agreement between two or more parties. Formally, the Prime Minister is appointed by Sovereign. The responsibilities of the Prime Minister include:

  • Appointing (and dismissing) ministers: Ultimately, all ministers of the crown are appointed by the Sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister. That means that the Prime Minister is the final arbiter of who serves in the government. The Prime Minister may appoint and dismiss ministers by communicating an appointment or dismissal to the A-Team, who will then handle the permissions. The one rule is that the Prime Minister must maintain a list of ministers on the forum.
  • Leading the government: The Prime Minister is the leader of the government and ultimately responsible for providing direction to the government. While decisions are formally made by the Cabinet, it is generally the responsibility of the Prime Minister to set the overall direction of travel. Likewise, the Prime Minister is responsible for ensuring ministers remain active and replacing those that are not delivering.
  • Leading their party: The Prime Minister is also tasked with leading their political party and, as a result, must make a variety of party decisions.

Being Prime Minister is a relatively demanding role. Please keep this in mind before seeking the leadership of your party. Prime Ministers are expected to deal with both good and bad news and not quit as soon as something doesn't go their way. Moreover, they are responsible for ensuring that the government is living up to its responsibilities (outlined in the "Government Responsibilities" section). Please review that before attempting to be Prime Minister.

Ministers and Departments: The government is composed of several Departments that are headed by a Secretary of State. These departments are generally thematic (ie health, education, defence) and have important executive functions. Given that there are twenty-three ministerial departments in real life, we utilise NPCs and departmental consolidation to ensure each department is represented in government. The important rule is that every department must be assigned to a player and all of the Great Offices of State (below) must be appointed.

  • The Great Offices of State: In addition to the Prime Minister, the Great Offices of State are the Chancellor of the Exchequer (heading the Treasury), the Foreign Secretary (heading the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), and the Home Secretary (heading the Home Office). For our purposes, these offices are special as they are the only ministers (other than the Prime Minister) who will receive private offices on Discord. All other ministers will be confined to the Cabinet Room, Cabinet Office, and the Civil Service channels. No matter how the government is arranged, the Prime Minister must appoint player characters to these three offices.
  • Parliamentary Offices: There are two important Parliamentary offices in government: the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip. These offices can be filled by player characters or NPCs, however the player controlling them must be different from the Prime Minister.

In order to ensure that each department is represented, there are three strategies that are generally allowed: double-jobbing, creating super ministries, and appointing NPCs. The general guidelines for each of these strategies are:

  • Double Jobbing - Due to player numbers, a player holding multiple jobs is acceptable (ie, being Secretary of State for Education and Secretary of State for Defence will be perfectly acceptable). Double jobbing is always allowed and encouraged to allow maximal flexibility. Except in exceptional circumstances (with A-Team approval), the Prime Minister may not double-job with any of the Great Offices of State.
  • Super Ministries - The Prime Minister is allowed to create super ministries, organised thematically, to give people a larger role (ie, a Secretary of State for Public Services, who oversees the Departments of Education, Health, and Work and Pensions). These are less flexible, but allowed. Some mixes are completely acceptable (such as a Secretary of State for Devolution, combining all of the national offices). Ultimately this is up to the Prime Minister.
  • NPCs - As an alternative to double-jobbing, the Prime Minister may appoint NPCs to head certain departments. Each NPC must be assigned to a player, who will ultimately be responsible for the actions of that NPC. Importantly, the NPC and the player's main character must belong to the same faction of the party. Admins retain significant control over NPCs if players stray too far from their point of view. A player's main character will not accrue significant benefits from the NPC, though the NPC will be seen by the press to be one of their allies.

Government Responsibilities

Setting the Agenda: Ultimately, the Government is responsible for setting the political and policy agenda and bringing items for debate before Parliament. As a general rule of thumb, the Government should have no less than one piece of legislation before Parliament at a time. Additional business can be brought before Parliament in the form of ministerial statements. In order to carry out their agenda, the Government has the following tools that can be brought before Parliament:

  • Primary legislation: These are the bills that affect statutory change. In general, they are used to establish new powers, amend existing primary legislation, or grant powers to groups where power has not already been delegated to government ministers. For more information on these, please see the "Guide to Writing Legislation" [note: insert link].
  • Secondary legislation: These are Orders-in-Council or Orders-of-Council that are approved by government ministers based on powers already conferred upon them by existing legislation. For example, the government can change the classification of certain drugs using secondary legislation. Typically, these must be presented before Parliament and can be subject to a debate and an affirmative or negative approval procedure.
  • White and command papers: These are government documents presented to Parliament "By Command of Her Majesty" and typically seek to articulate government policy and the ways and means by which the government will seek to carry out that policy. In general, they cover extremely broad areas (think: The Integrated Review, the Leveling Up White Paper, the Strategic Defence Review). Once published the Civil Service will automatically begin shifting government functions to meet the goals outlined in a command paper, within the confines of existing law. These are subject to a general debate in the House of Commons, but do not require approval (and are often not subject to disapproval) of the House.
  • Ministerial statements: In many ways a cousin to the command paper, a ministerial statement can be used to announce changes to a departments operation or announce how a specific programme within a department will operate. For example, the establishment of a Knife Crime Fund within the Home Office might be the topic of a ministerial statement (whereas the creation of a more comprehensive Knife Crime Strategy might be a white paper). Additionally, ministerial statements are often used to update the House in response to scenarios (discussed below) or ministerial actions (for example, the outcomes of a NATO summit).
  • Motions: These are used by the government to obtain the backing of the House for major policies that are otherwise not subject to primary or secondary legislation. Some prominent examples of motions put before the House by the government in recent years include the renewal of Trident and Heathrow expansion.

As a general rule, the Government must be prepared to bring forward an agenda to keep the game active. That agenda can and should be responsive to scenarios, but should not be dependent on them. If the government is failing to do this, it will be reflected in rapidly diminishing poll numbers.

Scenario Response: Governments will be tasked with responding to scenarios launched by the A-Team. Some scenarios may occur as a result of a government policy (ie a strike after a less than ideal pay award), while others will be hard-wired into the round (ie a flood). Scenario responses will typically involve some combination of the following actions:

  • News articles: Some scenarios will start with a news article indicating an emerging event that will require a government response (ie the Met Office is forecasting extreme precipitation over a 72 hour period). In this scenario, it is the responsibility of the government to begin responding to the event. Failure to do so might result in negative consequences.
  • Briefings: Other scenarios will start with a briefing by the admin leading the scenario. These will more directly call on a minister to do something. Other scenarios will have a briefing following a public news article. In general, ministers can request a briefing from an admin if they require one in response to a scenario.
  • Actions: At some point during a scenario, the government will need to provide the admins with actions taken in response to the scenario (a plan, as it were). Once this plan is agreed to, the admin leading the scenario will typically announce some sort of result and continue or wrap up the scenario.
  • Press conferences or briefings: During the scenario, ministers will typically have to brief the press about the actions that they are taking. This can take the form of press briefings or, in certain circumstances, a press conference if one is warranted.
  • Ministerial statements: Each scenario will generally conclude with the responsible minister making a statement to Parliament. Sometimes, if there is a natural break in the scenario, a minister may be required to make a statement to the House and then provide updates as the scenario progresses. The Civil Service will advise you to make a statement if one is warranted mid-scenario. Alternatively, the Opposition may pressure you to make one. It should be noted that, if you don't make a statement or announce a plan to make a statement when one is warranted, then the Speaker might look more favourably on an urgent question on the topic.

Parliamentary Duties: The Government is ultimately responsible to Parliament and, in addition to driving an agenda through Parliament, is expected to attend certain Parliamentary events. These are discussed, in brief, below.

  • Question time: Ministers have an obligation to answer oral questions before the House of Commons. As stipulated in the Question Time rules, ministers have 72 hours after a question has been asked to answer the question. If the minister is unavailable, then another minister is expected to answer the question. Failure to do so may result in escalating penalties for the minister and, eventually, the entire government.
  • Live and Urgent Questions: Live questions will be regularly scheduled events, conducted on Discord, in which oral questions to ministers will occur in real time and will be especially taken note of by admins. Urgent questions are more ad hoc. In response to a scenario or a policy announcement that does not follow the usual channels (ie a major initiative announced in the press, not Parliament), a government minister may be called before Parliament to answer questions. Typically, a shadow minister will be entitled to up to four questions following an urgent question. This may be extended at the discretion of the Speaker and the time commitments of the players.
  • Debates (Live and Otherwise): Ministers are expected to attend debates in the House of Commons, particularly those related to legislation and statements sponsored by their department. Failure to respond to Opposition critiques of legislation will be noted by the press and may impact the lines that the Westminster press reports when covering Parliament. On occasion, the admins may schedule a live debate, in which ministers will field questions and debate points about a specific piece of legislation or a statement live on Discord. Following a live debate, an admin will transcribe the exchange on to the forum for posterity related to the debate.

The Civil Service, NPCs, and You

The Civil Service: The Civil Service is represented by admins providing advice on implementation to the government. The Civil Service, in general, is not there to provide policy advice and will not guide you on specific courses of action. It will, however, provide technical answers to questions if ministers ask them. As a general rule, the Civil Service is a conservative institution and likes the status quo and incremental change. Advice given to ministers will generally reflect this tendency. The basic expectations and functions that you an expect from the Civil Service are:

  • Briefings: The Civil Service will provide briefings with the necessary, known information to ministers during a scenario or in response to a reasonable request for information. These briefings will be neutral in tone, state the facts of the matter, and will not provide policy advice.
  • Technical advice: The Civil Service will answer technical questions related to the drafting of policies and legislation. Technical questions generally fall under the heading of "is this possible to implement" or " is this legal" or "do I need to do something extra to make this legal [ie, "do I need to introduce legislation and not just post a statement?"]. Technical questions do not fall under the heading of "is this a good idea?" That would be political advice. Sometimes technical advice will take the tone of, "It is possible but there are might be confounding factors, like financial markets."
  • Cautions: In the event that a minister chooses to do something that would qualify as "off the rails", the Civil Service might warn against the idea in a subtle way ("Are you certain of that course, minister?"). In the case of an idea that is certainly off the rails (ie, recognising Taiwan), the Civil Service might be a little more urgent in making a recommendation to not pursue that course of action. However, ultimately the decision to do something is the minister's and the minister's alone.
  • Article and report approval: The Civil Service will provide approval for articles, reports, and statistics for ministers; it will not write reports. In general, when an article or report is approved, typically regarding a policy idea, it will represent one possible outcome - not the outcome that occurs in the game universe. The Civil Service does not guarantee that outcome. 

Much like the list of what the Civil Service will do, there is a list of things that the Civil Service will not do:

  • Veto: Ultimately, when an instruction is given the only response by the Civil Service will be some variation of "Yes, Minister". Therefore, do not count on the Civil Service to be a safety net against bad ideas. Ultimately, it will do its best to implement the vision of the government as it is instructed to do.
  • Political advice: Is a hard no. The Civil Service will not advise on the popularity of policies or political concerns related to implementing them.
  • Overly broad advice: In general, the Civil Service will not be expected to answer overly broad questions (ie, "what could go wrong with this policy?"). That is a minister's responsibility to research. If an A-Team member is feeling particularly chatty, you might get a discussion going on a policy. However, this is not a requirement of Civil Service and should not be expected.

If you don't like the advice given to you by the Civil Service, you have a few options:

  • Ignore it: Nothing obligates a minister to take Civil Service advice. It's simply provided free of charge. Naturally, some things are more important than others. If the Civil Service advises you that something it illegal and you ignore that advice, you can expect the courts to squash your action pretty quickly. Other advice is more flexible. If the Civil Service tells you something would be difficult to implement, you can still try. That is your decision.
  • Fire the Civil Servant: Famously done at the Treasury by Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng. If you do not like the advice you are receiving, you are allowed to dismiss the civil servant in question (typically a permanent secretary or director-general) and appoint a replacement. If you choose to do this, the A-Team will provide you with a list of candidates to replace them. These candidates will have brief biosketches and hidden attributes (ie how ideological they are, how competent they are, etc). Changing the permanent secretary will change the tenor of advice you receive. That said, it should be noted that replacing a civil servant is considered an action that is out of the mainstream. Permanent secretaries don't often get fired. But if you really want to, you can. Just know it's a risk.

NPC Consultations: When crafting policy, the Government may be interested in NPC consultations. In general, it can be assumed that the government conducted all of the necessary consultation and simply did not implement the responses that it disagreed with. However, in some cases, the government may wish to actually conduct consultations (ie, when discussing pay raises with the unions). To do this, just message the relevant admin and consultations will be arranged. In general, when organising consultations, only pursue those that create value. Speaking to someone who is bound to oppose your policy just to say you spoke with them is more likely to annoy them than make them more sympathetic. If you are abusing NPC consultations, the A-Team will let you know.

  • If you would like a broad overview of the consultation landscape on a proposal, you may request that. In that event, the responsible admin will give you a brief summary of reactions to the proposal (ie, "X group likes this proposal, Y groups is vehemently opposed").

NPC Interactions: Some events inevitably require NPC meetings (such as meetings with foreign officials). In general, it is up to the minister to determine when meetings are necessary. However, as a good rule of thumb, it should be said that ministers close deals, they don't negotiate them all the way through. Additionally, requesting meetings just to check in is a waste of time for everyone involved. If you are requesting an NPC meeting, you should tell the admin what it's about and have an outcome in mind. You start to look silly if you're flying all over the world and not accomplishing anything.

So what can you do? Before simulating a meeting, you can pass a draft agreement back and forth with the admin representing the NPC group. Typically, this will get your pretty close to a final agreement. If there are a few things you want to push more, you can then schedule the meeting to press your case can prove your personal diplomacy skills. Use the meeting to close the deal, not negotiate the whole thing. Remember, major agreements and deals can take months to negotiate. Your two hour visit isn't enough to get everything done.

NPC Inquiries and Reviews: A favourite strategy is often to put off making a decision by asking for an independent inquiry or review of a specific issue (such as the Oakervee review of HS2). This is a strategy that the government can use. To do so, it must announce the inquiry in the form of a ministerial statement, including the terms of reference (what questions is the inquiry or review trying to answer and what outcomes are expected?), who is heading it (an NPC who must be admin-approved), and the time frame for the inquiry (when will it report back). Some general considerations for reviews:

  • Reviews generally take a long time. Six months is a good lower limit. Up to a year is very common. So if you want an answer quickly, an inquiry or review may not be the best strategy. Of course, if you want one rushed out, it can be done, but you run the risk of the findings being lower quality.
  • Reviews are expected to be public. Once you announce it, the government will be presented with the findings first, but will then generally be expected to put the findings before Parliament.
  • Reviews may not give you the answer that you want. In fact, there is a risk that reviews will be critical of government policy. In announcing an independent review, that is a risk that you are taking. However, you must work with whatever the review comes back with, even if you don't like it.
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