Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Gordon's Government

....But who will get his old job?





With Gordon Brown's accession to the Labour leadership now looking all-but-assured, guessing the shape of his first Cabinet has become one of the favourite pasttimes of political bloggers and even some serious journalists. I myself have been challenged a couple of times to name who I think will in be Gordon's line-up.

Well, I'm not only going to take up this challenge, I'm going to do a whole series of posts on it, starting today with a look at who I think will get his current job as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Before turning to that, however, I thought I would, by way of a general introduction to the series, make some general observations about what factors I think will guide Brown in his choices.

They are: the need to be seen as a new government, the need to unite a divided party, the need to placate potential rivals, the need to ensure competence and continuity, and finally the need to reward those who have stuck by him through thick and thin.

1. A new government. Most observers now agree that the Brown accession will see a big influx of fresh talent from the younger generation, including some MPs elected as recently as 2005. I would expect at least eight members of the present Cabinet - more than a third - to leave the Government.

2. Party unity. There will, I believe, be a return to the Wilsonian style of party management. Jon Cruddas will be offered a senior role whether or not he wins the deputy leadership. Iraq War resigner John Denham will be given a Cabinet job. And some key Blairites will be kept on.

3. Placating rivals. In the same vein, Gordon will be magnanimous to those who could have emerged as potential rivals. John Reid will remain in a senior role. Charles Clarke may be offered a way back into government, though he may decline it. And then there's David Miliband....(see below)

4. Competence and continuity. I believe Gordon wants to run a government that will be noted for its quiet efficiency, with a premium on ministers who get the job done. There will be less of the putting square pegs in round holes (eg Reid to Health) that frequently happened under Blair.

5. Rewarding loyalty. There are some people who were extremely badly treated by Blair on account of their closeness to Gordon - most notably Nick Brown and Yvette Cooper. Gordon will want to repay them for the years the locusts have eaten.

So, turning to the job of Chancellor of the Exchequer, what do I think will Gordon do about his most vital appointment - that of his own successor?

Well, any assessment of this is complicated by the recent discussions about splitting the Treasury into a Ministry for Economic Affairs (also subsuming the DTI) and a Finance Ministry (a bit like the difference between a finance director and a commercial director in most companies.)

Assuming though, for the sake of argument, that the job remains intact, attention has focused primarily on two candidates.

They are Gordon's former economic adviser, now junior Treasury minister Ed Balls, and his long time ally, the Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling.

Taking Balls first, I find Philip Webster convincing on this one, and not just because he goes to watch football with Balls every other Saturday.

I have long taken the view that promotion to the Chancellorship this early on in his career would be too big a leap, and according to the Political Editor of the Times, so does Gordon. Balls seems destined instead for the Chief Secretaryship, with the big promotion coming some time in the next Parliament.

So what about Alistair Darling? Well, I am going to come out against him as well, not because I think Gordon wouldn't want him as Chancellor, but because I don't think he can have him.

At a time when the Tories are seeking to make a general election issue of Brown's Scottishness, he simply cannot afford to have the two most important jobs in British politics occupied by politicians from north of the border - particularly if he also keeps John Reid at the Home Office.

That, to my mind, leaves two English candidates as the front-runners for the Treasury role.

The first of these is David Miliband. He was the only potential leadership rival that Brown ever really feared, and had he been a slightly cannier operator, I think Miliband could have played on that fear and demanded the Exchequer as his price.

But his current role as Environment Secretary has, suddenly, become a very high profile as well as a very important role in terms of helping to shape the politics of the next few years, and he may well elect to stay there.

Miliband also weakened his own negotiating position by making it clear fairly early on that he wouldn't stand for leader. In conclusion I'm not as convinced as I once was that he will end up as Chancellor, although I still think he is a very strong contender.

The other candidate is Jack Straw, the great survivor of the New Labour years. Some tip him for a return to the Foreign Office, but though this could well happen, other strong candidates for the FCO exist, notably Hilary Benn or even Peter Hain.

In contrast, there seems an absense of real heavyweight contenders for the Treasury, and I am now tending towards the view that if Brown decides to keep the department intact, Straw could well be his man, perhaps with the brief of overseeing the eventual transition to two separate departments.

But if Gordon decides to go for the Big Bang, I tip Straw to return to the Foreign Office rather than undertake either of what would both be lesser roles. In those circumstances, I would back Darling to become Economic Affairs Secretary and Miliband to take on the Finance brief.

I suspect the position will become clearer over the coming weeks as we get an idea of just how serious the proposal to split the Treasury really is.

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13 comments:

Jimbo Jones said...

Straw wont go near the foreign office he is too closely linked to early stages Iraq which is something that Gordon will want to distance himself from.

BondWoman said...

Peter Hain, with his propensity for stating what he thinks at certain points, is highly unlikely for FCO, methinks. Hilary Benn is my top contender for that. I agree with you that none of the other really senior jobs are likely to go to Scots.

MorrisOx said...

You bet your money supply that Broon will want to "provide a structure appropriate for modern Government".

Splitting the Treasury in two means he eliminats the risk of a key rival controlling a central plank of Government policy when he's trying to run the country.

Perish the thought...

Anonymous said...

RE: your comment on Obama and McCain...

You're a Republican now Paul??

Bloody hell, you're all over't shop.

Paul Linford said...

Anon 11.56

Why didn't you leave this comment under the relevant post on Iain's blog, whoever you are?

I wouldn't describe myself as a Republican or a Democrat in American terms. They are not like our Tory and Labour parties anyway.

I happen to like McCain because (unlike the present incumbent) I think he's a calm, authoritative, measured politician whose finger I would be happy to see on the nuclear button. I also think American needs to move on from the whole Bush-Clinton dynastic saga.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't be surprised if a Lib Dem gets a seat.

Govt. of all the talents, remember.

HenryG said...

I've backed Straw to be the next Chancellor at 14/1. Pretty sure he'll be in the mix, is English, experienced and loyal to Brown without being seen to be in his inner circle.

Honey Weeks said...

Talk about misdirection.... Brown is not going to be the next PM.... this is all about PR and misdirection... WATCH THIS SPACE!!!! Who is most likely to a) continue the Gulf War, b)Cosy up to Bush, c)Support next-generation nuclear weapons, and d) meet the Pope? It isn't Brown!

jgc said...

One thing you seemed to have missed in your musings is women.

Having women involved in senior positions is a complete political necessity. I would suggest that two (english) women in the second rank jobs ( chancellor, foreign secretary, home office, deputy PM - if there is one ) might be seen as sensible. There is a problem with who in that one must presume that Pat Hewitt has rather blown her chance of the chancellorship, perhaps he will keep Beckitt in place though presumably Jowell will go ( too close to Blair and various whiffs of scandal), Harman will presumably get a high profile job even if she does win the deputy leadership. Yvette Cooper seems destined for the cabinet ( education? ).

Paul Linford said...

jgc

It's the first in a series. I'll be looking at some of the other jobs in subsequent posts.

There will obviously be a number of women in Brown's Cabinet line-up, but I would suggest there might be slightly fewer than there currently are. I think Gordon will hand out Cabinet jobs on merit, not on the basis of gender-balance, and, Cooper apart, most of the new up-and-coming people (Burnham, Byrne, Purnell, the younger Miliband) are men.

james higham said...

This seems to me, a mere layman, the definitive analysis, Paul. We'll soon know.

james higham said...

Bob Piper says Jon Cruddas. thoughts?

UK Daily Pundit said...

The Mirror: Des Browne bookies favourite to be Chancellor!