Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Reshuffle baloney

A collective madness appears to be descending on the Labour Party as it faces the prospect of humiliation in Thursday's local and European elections. Up here in Derbyshire, the talk is that Labour will lose control of the county council for the first time in the 27 years since David Bookbinder stormed into power at Matlock at the expense of a bunch of corrupt old Tory freemasons in 1981, but of course this is just one small aspect of what is expected to be a much wider deluge.

Against that backdrop, the idea that Gordon Brown can somehow try to turn round this situation by carrying out a reshuffle seems preposterous enough. The idea that he can turn it around by dint of replacing Alistair Darling as Chancellor with, of all people, Ed Balls, seems to me to be taking fantasy politics to fresh heights of absurdity.

I can't say I'm hugely surprised that Jacqui Smith has decided to disrupt all Gordon's careful plotting by staging a pre-emptive resignation. I predicted a couple of months back that she would fall on her sword and so she has, perhaps mindful of the much bigger battle she has on her hands in Redditch.

What I find more interesting is that as eminent an observer as Michael White does not believe there is an obvious successor to Ms Smith in sight. What, I ask you, about John Denham and Hilary Benn, both of whom have served as ministers of state at the Home Office as well as in other Cabinet roles?

Well, having posed the question, I'll do my best to answer it. Neither Denham nor Benn has much of a power base in the party. Neither are identified as "Brownites" or "Blairites." Neither has a clutch of influential lobby correspondents continuously writing up their chances of preferment as, for instance, Alan Milburn still has, four years after he last quit the Cabinet.

There is, therefore, neither tactical advantage nor short-term headlines to be gained in promoting either of them to the Home Office, as there would be for instance if he brought back Milburn, or David Blunkett, or still worse, used the department as a dumping ground for another senior minister (Darling, D Miliband) displaced from elsewhere. And of course, tactical advantage and short-term headlines are what the Brown government is now all about.

Jacqui Smith's original (over)promotion to the Home Office in 2007, ahead of a number of more experienced and able ministers, is itself a case in point. It was not done on merit, but as part of carefully-worked "deal" between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair to give Brown a clear run at the leadership in return for big promotions for Blair's favourites, David Miliband being another beneficiary.

The Guardian surerly had it right in its editorial yesterday. "Whatever Cabinet reshuffles are for, good governance has little to do with it."

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Doug Chaplin said...

You say: "And of course, tactical advantage and short-term headlines are what the Brown government is now all about."

While I normally bow to your wisdom, has the Brown government ever considered any other way of governing? Brown always wanted to be PM: he never seems to have had the slightest clue what he wanted to do as PM, except stuff Tony and Tory.

Oli said...

Given the current disintegration of the cabinet (Smith, Blears, Hoon?), what exactly will the post-reshuffle cabinet preside over?

"Marking time" is the phrase that comes to mind, and to hold onto power (i.e. not calling an election) is surely to exacerbate the situation and not allow the country the government it wants - therefore clearly holding their own interests above those of the country.

James Higham said...

Your wishful thinking in staying with them for so long is commendable though Paul.

GM said...

Alan Johnson's promotion, James Purnell's failed rebellion and the sight of the electoral abyss that will be today's local election results may all have acted to preserve Brown for his remaining ten months or so. So apocalyptic have been the election predictions that those, at any rate, have lost the ability to really change events. Haven't they?