Monday, February 05, 2007

Gordon's Government - II

....Who will be following Blair and Prescott out of the door?




Last week, in the first of my series of posts on the likely make-up of Gordon Brown's Cabinet, I said I believed that up to eight ministers - more than a third of the Cabinet - could be leaving the government as a result of the transition.

The identity of two of them we already know - Tony Blair himself, and his deputy John Prescott who announced last October that he would be following his boss into retirement.

But who will join them? Which veterans of the New Labour years might have to be asked to make way for new blood - and which Blair loyalists might find they have pinned their colours rather too closely to Mr Tony's mast for his successor's liking?

Well, there are two over-60s among the ranks of the Cabinet's Blairite sisterhood who appear vulnerable on both grounds - Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, and Social Exclusion Minister Hilary Armstrong.

In the days when she was John Smith’s parliamentary private secretary, Ms Armstrong was once close to Mr Brown. But over the years, she has become more and more identified with the Blairite cause, most notably during an undistinguished stint as Chief Whip.

I suspect that she finds the social exclusion role much more to her liking, but at 61, she is surely living on borrowed political time.

As for Ms Jowell, her chances of remaining on board are additionally hampered by having been caught up sleaze accusations as a result of her husband David Mills' involvement with the corrupt Italian media tycoon-cum-politician Silvio Berlusconi.

Her solution to that was to claim she had known nothing of the link and then to lay down her marriage for the sake of her career, but her tenure of the Culture brief has not greatly endeared her to the press or public and her departure would be seen as no great loss.

More controversial would be the axeing of Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton, who has been seen as a rising star under Blair and who is still talked about in some quarters as a dark horse contender for the leadership.

I don't believe Gordon will go out of his way to victimise those who could have emerged as contenders - John Reid will be kept in a senior role for instance - but I somehow doubt if the quality of mercy will extend to Mr Hutton.

He is widely believed to have been the Cabinet minister responsible for telling the BBC's Nick Robinson last September that Mr Brown “would make a fucking dreadful Prime Minister," and I expect him to pay the political price for this outburst.

Joining him in the exit lobby will, surely, be Charlie Falconer, the "First Flatmate" and Prime Ministerial favourite who has performed much the same role for Blair as Lord Young did for Margaret Thatcher and George Wigg did for Harold Wilson,

There will also be much discussion concerning the fate of two of the Cabinet's other senior women - Margaret Beckett and Patricia Hewitt.

Mrs Beckett is now the only remaining minister who served under Callaghan and as such has an unrivalled claim to the title Great Survivor of modern Labour politics. She is also a very close ally of Mr Brown's.

But her role as Foreign Secretary is keenly coveted by a trio of heavyweights in Jack Straw, Hilary Benn and Peter Hain, and if Gordon can stomach the idea of a Derby South by-election she may well find herself asked to become Leader of the House of Lords.

That would be bad news for Valerie Amos, who has never particularly shone in the role, and also for Lord Kinnock, who some Labour sentimentalists hope might finally get to occupy a Cabinet seat in the evening of his career.

But if Mrs Beckett looks set to survive the post-Blair cull, I am far less sure about Ms Hewitt. A couple of years back, she fancied herself as the first female Chancellor, but her performance as Health Secretary has been lamentable.

Not only has she failed to convince many of her Cabinet colleagues to support the current regionalisation of health services, she has totally failed to explain it to the public either.

Australia's most famous political export is a Brownite of old, and that, together with the fact that Gordy won't want to be seen to be sacking too many women, may yet save her.

That said, it is hard to see her being offered any post that would not now be seen as a demotion, and as such she may herself conclude that her political career has now peaked.

The future of Margaret Beckett is also the main subject of my latest Podcast which is now live. A text version can be found at the Derby Evening Telegraph site.

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4 comments:

Andrea said...

"But her role as Foreign Secretary is keenly coveted by a trio of heavyweights in Jack Straw, Hilary Benn and Peter Hain, and if Gordon can stomach the idea of a Derby South by-election she may well find herself asked to become Leader of the House of Lords"

A byelection in Derby South on current boundary can be very risky IMO even if there's a Brown bounce. Especially in a case like that where it's quite difficult to explain the need of a byelection, apart as a career move.
If Straw gets a promotion, Beckett could end up as Leader of the House of Commons in his place.

Anonymous said...

Pedants' corner - Tessa Jowell isn't 60 until Sepyember 2007...How ungallant to both stress a lady's age, and get it wrong!

Good piece - but there's no way that Brown will call a by-election.

Also, Kinnock has said he will not serve in a future Cabinet, hard to see him going back. And it would look like a backward step.

RedEye said...

Yes, just look at the three previous by-elections caused by a sitting MP being given a peerage to become Leader of the Lords. The Callaghan government saw Labour lose the stronghold of Workington when Fred Peart was made Leader of the Lords. The Conservative majority in Penrith & the Borders was slashed just weeks after the 1983 landslide, when Whitelaw was made Leader of the Lords. The Conservatives lost Ribble Valley when David Waddington was made Leader of the Lords.

And there is a wider history of the electorate feeling very angry at being dragged out to a by-election for any reason short of death, and taking that anger out on the party of the MP who has left for a reason short of death. Ashfield and Birmingham Stechford in 1977 (caused by Messrs Jenkins and Marquand going to Brussels), Warrington in 1980 (though this also owed much to Jenkins standing for the SDP), West Derbyshire in 1986 (held but with a greatly reduced majority), Winchester and Beckenham on the same day in November 1997, and Birmingham Hodge Hill in 2004 (held, but Labour suffered a larger swing than on Leicester South on the same day).

On top of all this, the LDs are second in Derby South (we know how good they are at by-elections, particularly against Labour), and the constituency has a large Muslim population (the two are connected).

Paul Linford said...

Persuasive, RedEye.