Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Restructuring of Government

The apparent confirmation by John Reid of the long-overdue restructuring of the Home Office begs several questions about what is currently going on in the corridors of power, and how if at all it relates to the forthcoming Blair-Brown handover. Dr Reid's proposal to split the creaking monolith into a Department of Homeland Security and a Ministry of Justice - a re-working of an old Number 10 initiative that was blocked by David Blunkett in 2003 - apparently has both Blair and Brown's backing.

It's an eminently sensible idea, and although it's been round the block a few times, Dr Reid's recent admission that the Home Office is "not fit for purpose" makes this a logical point at which to implement it. But that, to my mind, does not fully explain why an internal reordering of the structures of Whitehall has suddenly leaped to the top of the political agenda.

As anyone who has ever tried to draw up an organisation structure for a business will know, no discussion such as this can ever be divorced from consideration of who might fill the resulting posts. I suggest that, in the context of national politics, this is even more likely to be the case.

Reid's plan, then, and the Prime Minister-in-waiting's approval of them, has to be seen as part of a much bigger power game that is being played out within New Labour and across Whitehall.

Splitting the Home Office in the way that has been mooted will have some interesting knock-on effects. For starters, the creation of a standalone Ministry of Justice in charge of prisons, probation and the criminal justice system, will necessitate a break-up of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, which is currently responsible for the courts.

That will leave the DCA as much more what was originally envisaged when it was first created in 2003 - a "department for devolution" subsuming the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland offices, perhaps with added responsibility for issues such as Lords Reform.

So who might fill some of these roles? Is Dr Reid, for instance, eyeing up the job of being Gordon's Homeland Security supremo in return for not running against him for leader? Could the new Min of Justice create an interesting new career opportunity for Brown ally Jack Straw?

And would not the DCA's transformation into a department concerned more with political reform and devolved administrations provide a natural berth for another of Mr Brown's key allies, Peter Hain?

Allied to all this are the suggestions that Mr Brown plans to split the Treasury into a Finance Department and an Economic Department, the latter of which would subsume most of the DTI.

Once again, this change will create two senior Cabinet posts from one - perhaps enabling Brown to let Alastair Darling down gently while simultaneously buying-off his most dangerous potential rival for the leadership, David Miliband?

All in all, it will give the new Prime Minister more room for manoeuvre at a time when he is going to be anxious to appease some of the big players, while also bringing fresh talent into the Cabinet.

As Mr Blunkett has not been slow to point out, it will also give him much more power. And power is what this is really all about.

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jailhouselawyer said...

I have heard Hilary Benn's name mooted for the role of Minister of Justice. A source sat in his ivory tower at Prison Service HQ said he would be happy with that. Don't forget that Jack Straw comes under the successive Home Secretaries that have not succeeded as Home Secretary in relation to prisons and prisoners.

John Reid would make too powerful an enemy for Gordon Brown on the backbenches, and Homeland Security is where his heart lies and appears a good compromise.

Some of Lord Falconer's powers will go to the Minister of Justice. Apparently, he was going to get the role until it was pointed out that it did not sit well constitutionally or according to convention and such accountability required it be a MP and not a member of the Lords. It is not even clear that Falconer will remain Lord Chancellor under Brown.

At least you have picked up more on the story than the dead tree brigade and some other bloggers who are cynical for the wrong reasons.

Richard Bailey said...

The only reason this didn't happen in 2003 is because a certain Cabinet Minister threw the most almighty wobbler. You will recall that the reshuffle that day took hours longer than usual and came out in dribs and drabs. This was because Blair's initial plan to create a Minstry for Justice (as they have in Scotland) was torn to ribbons by his colleagues.

Lord Falconer baled him out by cobbling together a compromise with the clear promise that round two would come soon enough.

I know - I was sitting in the press office of the LCD when all of a sudden, the BBC told us that we had become the DCA and that Lord Falconer was on his way over.

I was in the office organising interviews etc until about midnight. It cost the tax payer over £100 to send me home by taxi!!!

We have short memories - this is actually very old news recycled with huge headlines to deflect attention from other matters.

Paul Linford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Linford said...

Valuable insights Richard, which (although you don't name him) seem to bear out my point about Blunkett having sabotaged the 2003 reshuffle. I was on the other side of the fence on that occasion, in the Lobby Briefing that took place that evening, and I can confirm that it was complete chaos and no-one from No 10 knew wtf was actually going on. To take one example, lobby hacks were handed a statement making clear that the posts of Scottish and Welsh Secretaries had been abolished and their responsibilities subsumed into the DCA. Half an hour later, following some awkward phonecalls by the political editors of the Glasgow Herald and the Western Mail, this position was reversed. We were also told that the post of Lord Chancellor had been abolished. As you will no doubt recall, it transpired that this required legislation and it was all quietly dropped a few months later. All in all, a complete balls.

Inamicus said...

Interesting and intelligent piece Paul. The split of the Treasury to Economic and Finance is particularly intriguing. Shades of Wilson's Department of Economic Affairs - which notably flopped after an abortive power struggle with the Treasury.