Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Blair's last reshuffle

More fascinating stuff today from Anthony Seldon's new "Blair Unbound" biography currently being serialised in The Times. Today's excerpt reveals he planned to make Charles Clarke Foreign Secretary in his last big reshuffle in May 2006, but was persuaded against it following Clarke's mishandling of the row over the deportation of foreign prisoners.

Seldon goes on to claim that Blair then formulated a plan to give the job to David Miliband, but got cold feet at the last minute before settling on the third choice, Margaret Beckett.

The fascinating question here is why he decided not to promote Miliband, a move which, according to Seldon, Blair himself believed would have "renewed" the government.

Perhaps it would. But what it would also have done, of course, was hugely destabilised the government, in that the appointment to a major office of state of such an obvious potential rival to Gordon Brown for the succession would have been viewed as a declaration of war by the Brownites.

The Brownites would then have pushed harder to get the Prime Minister out, and would quite possibly have succeeded in removing him earlier than June 2007.

Seldon says that Blair decided against Miliband in the end because he had only been in the Cabinet a year, but this doesn't really ring true. I think he decided that the appointment would simply be too divisive, and opted for Beckett as the safe option.

The other interesting counterfactual question is whether, had the debacle over the deportation of foreign prisoners not happened and Clarke gone to the Foreign Office as originally planned, would he have been able to mount a successful challenge for the top job?

What it all goes to show is that, even though the Brown coronation ultimately assumed an air of historical inevitability, it never really was. Any number of circumstances could have led to a different outcome - these are just two of them.

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Barnacle Bill said...

I would imagine that Blair is kicking himself now that he did not call Brown's bluff.
Having seen Brown bottle out of calling an early election.
I think Brown has been mortally wounded by the whole fiasco surrounding the non election.
I have a feeling that the drift and confusion with-in this government will continue. Disappointment will mount under Brown's leadership, or lack of it.
So much so, that I do not think Brown will be around to lead NuLabor into any future election.

Anonymous said...

A greater missed opportunity was not making Miliband Education Secretary in the 04 reshuffle necessitated by Blunkett's resignation as Home Secretary. He'd have made a better fist of it than his ex-girlfriend (Kelly), and would have had the strength to stand up to Blair over Tomlinson.