PM seeks consensus on govt's expenses stance

Brown strives for govt unity in next phase of his premiership
Brown strives for govt unity in next phase of his premiership

By staff

Gordon Brown is chairing the first meeting of the government's national democratic renewal council in the Cabinet Office this lunchtime.

The body was formed in a bid to improve and coordinate the government's response to the expenses crisis, Downing Street says.

Observers are interpreting it as an attempt by the weakened prime minister to resort to committee-style government after he was forced to abandon his proposal for a flat daily rate for MPs.

"It was vital that the government pushed ahead with its agenda that would affect policies for the whole of the country," the prime minister's spokesman said, explaining the need for the council's formation.

Formed on the same lines as the economic council established to deal with the recession, the body will meet at least twice a week initially before falling back to weekly meetings.

It is made up of 13 Cabinet ministers as well as the Ministry of Justice's minister of state, Michael Wills, and the Commons and Lords' government chief whips - Nick Brown and Steve Bassam respectively.

Questions have been raised about its membership, however. Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell and culture, media and sport secretary Ben Bradshaw are not included, but international development secretary Douglas Alexander and foreign secretary David Miliband are.

"There will be plenty of opportunity for all members of the Cabinet to be consulted," the prime minister's spokesman added, explaining that achieving clarity on this pressing issue is achieved "most effectively by the ministers most directly involved".

Full list of national democratic renewal council members:

Gordon Brown (prime minister)
Jack Straw (justice secretary)
Alistair Darling (chancellor)
Hilary Benn (environment secretary)
Harriet Harman (leader of the Commons)
David Miliband (foreign secretary)
Douglas Alexander (transport secretary)
Lord Mandelson (business secretary and first secretary of state)
Alan Johnson (home secretary)
John Denham (communities secretary)
Shaun Woodward (Northern Ireland secretary)
Baroness Royall (leader of the Lords)
Jim Murphy (Scotland secretary)
Peter Hain (Wales secretary)
Michael Wills (justice minister)
Nick Brown (Commons chief whip)
Lord Bassam (Lords chief whip)


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