Thursday, June 28, 2007

So was there a deal?

The first thing to say about Gordon Brown's Cabinet Reshuffle is that at least it went smoothly. If this were a Tony Blair production, he would by now have either accidentally abolished the Scottish Office or allowed some middle-ranking Cabinet member to throw a strop that threatened to derail every other appointment.

It also, by and large, has the merit of placing round pegs in round holes. Some of Mr Blair's appointments - Margaret Beckett to the Foreign Office, John Reid to health - often seemed more counter-intuitive than logical.

On the plus side, it is good to see John Denham at the top table, and I am personally pleased that both Ruth Kelly and Peter Hain have survived. A lot of the opposition to Ruth seems based around the fact that she is a Christian, while a lot of the animus against Peter seems to be about the fact that he has a suntan. They are both good people.

Against that, I am disappointed and somewhat baffled to see Stephen Timms go - only a few months after he was talked about as a possible Chancellor - while it beggars belief that the bright, articulate and photogenic Yvette Cooper has missed out yet again on full Cabinet promotion.

But if I had to give an overall impression, it would be that while this is potentially a very strong team, I think Brown may have sacrificed slightly too much experience in his determination to present this as a "new government."

The key word there is "potentially." There are some newly-promoted men and women here who could turn out to be significant political figures, but it has to be said that some of them are currently only household names in their own households.

For starters, I am not at all convinced by Alistair Darling as Chancellor. For me, the best Chancellors were the ones who were strong political personalities in their own right - Roy Jenkins, Nigel Lawson, Ken Clarke, Brown himself.

By contrast the weakest Chancellors have historically been those who, like Darling, lacked an independent power base from that of the Prime Minister - Anthony Barber and Norman Lamont spring to mind.

Likewise, I am not convinced by Jacqui Smith as Home Secretary. She appears to owe her promotion partly to the fact that she is a woman and partly to having successfully poured oil on Labour's troubled waters at the height of last September's "coup."

But she has no experience either of the Home Office or of running a department and with Denham, Hazel Blears and Hilary Benn all having previously served as Ministers of State in the Home Office, she scarcely seemed the most logical choice for that demanding role.

The senior appointment that makes the most sense to me is that of David Miliband as Foreign Secretary. For all his supposed nerdiness, the South Shields MP is a very charming man and has exactly the sort of personal skills that will serve him well at the FCO.

Much is being made of the fact that he is the youngest Foreign Secretary since David Owen but that comparison ends there. Miliband will be nothing like the abrasive young doctor who, in the words of Denis Healey, poisoned everything around him.

Miliband's appointment is also the most fascinating in terms of Labour's internal politics, and will inevitably give rise to speculation of a "deal" under which he agreed to allow Brown a free run at the leadership in return for a major office of state.

Well, if there was such a deal, I think it was probably between Brown and Tony Blair, that Brown received the outgoing leader's endorsement in return for a pledge not to cull his supporters.

The collateral damage in all this was Margaret Beckett, who never really got on with Blair and was always very close to Brown. Yet in the end it was Blair who made her Foreign Secretary, and Brown who sacked her.

Politics? It's a funny old game.

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Gregg said...

My animus against Kelly is that she's been a crap Secretary for Local Govt. But, Christ Almighty, Blears? We had our council liasion on suicide watch this afternoon. I'd hoped (and frankly, expected) that the very able Yvette Cooper would get a straight promotion into Kelly's post.

Pleasantly surprised Hain has been kept in - I really thought he was destined for the backbenches.

The only ones I predicted correctly were Culture, Defence, Health and International Development.

Andy W said...


A couple of disappointments - Des Browne stays at defence, don't see that as smart, worse still he gets Scotland as well. Regardless of how much workload the latter brings surely this sends out the wrong message to our armed forces. They are embroiled in nasty conflicts and surely deserve the full time attention of a minister.

Secondly I feel housing (you missed from you latest list) should have gone to Cruddas. He did well in the deputy leader elections, has important things to say over social housing and deserves the post. At the end of the day social housing is far more important than HIPS.

skipper said...

Simon Hoggart insists Darling is the most boring of politicians and this might be true but maybe Gordon wants someone biddable and grey in an office which is often overshadowed by the PM in practice.

Bryan McGrath said...

I am obviously missing something here: this is not a new start, just a variation of musical chairs.

14 change job whilst 8 are actually new. However, 3 resigned (Blair, Reid and Goldsmith) and two was actually sacked Beckett and Baroness Scotland. The other 3 are too insignificant to be worth any more thought.

The one that should be for the P45 (Des Browne) stays put: something about a bunch of squaddies sells their heart reandering stories to the press comes to mind.

Also I thought the House Information Packet cockup was down to Yvette Cooper: Ruth Kelly having to take the wrap for her junior.

It seems failure is rewarded in the new world of GB, just like TB really

owenite rump said...

I think you'll find that it was Roy Jenkins who likened Owen to the Upas Tree, ie poisoning everything around him, not Healey. Denis used the "bad fairy made him a shit" line. They were both wrong, of course and were probably just jealous of the younger man.

Healey was a name-dropping big-head (though also the greatest PM we never had bar none, a leviathan of the Labour movement) and Jenkins was a snob (but the greatest Foreign Secretary we never had).

Ah, the Seventies. Sometimes, I turn the colour off the TV and imagine we're all back there.

Must dash, Roy Mason is on Nationwide...

CareShare Network said...

It looks like England is in transition as we are here in the states.

Ted Harvey said...

Paul I appreciate your worry about Brown having potentially sacrificed experience for 'the new'. But I think he has gone the right way. He has to consign to history as soon as possible what became latterly the Blairite failure (the country and history can later return to the earlier positives and successes but not for now).

Also, the country needs new generations to displace the old and if need be learn 'on the job' - and they have done commendably well in the aftermath of the latest terrorist outrages. On that, thank God that we do not still have Doctor John Reid; there's a man to make you question the value of 'experience'.

Darling, I think, is a dark and certainly clever horse, so we will have to see.

On the hapless Des Browne I have to agree with andy w; how can such an unimpressive sub-performer survive?... and why insult us in Scotland by adding us onto his brief as a part-time distraction? This reveals Gordon Brown's continuing weakness on the need for Labour to update and adapt to the newly developing Scottish scenario.

As for Ruth Kelly, the intense dislike for her has little to do with her being a Christian. Mind you, it may owe something to her being an active adherent to an unhealthy and unpleasant Christian sub-sect... and in that context, Blair putting her in Education smacked of either arrogance or aggravation. But really it has more to do with what Gregg posted - she's been a crap Secretary for Local Government. Since then she has been all over the place.

jg said...

It is not as smooth as you make out, I don't think. What are the ministers for the regions supposed to actually do? And why, if the Olympics still falls under the remit of DCMS is Jowell reporting directly in to Brown for her Olympics portfolio? Nothing to do with James Purnell being Secretary of State for DCMS and Jowell once being his boss, surely?

Anonymous said...

Many are leery of Ruth Kelly because she is a member of a sinister religious cult, not "because she is a Christian". I am surprised that you Paul don't make this distinction.

Although I must say Christianity does seem to work as an excuse for having indefensibly oppressive opinions. Opinions that would see any atheist considered a frothing right-winger. Go figure.