Saturday, June 27, 2009

Who will clean up Parliament?

Who will be the one to clean-up politics in the wake of the MPs expenses scandal? David Cameron? Gordon Brown? Or perhaps new Speaker John Bercow? Here's today's Journal column.

So was it a petty act of revenge by Labour MPs who know they are going to lose their seats and want to leave as poisoned a legacy as they can for David Cameron and the Tories?

Or was it a long-overdue attempt to provide a fresh start for a House of Commons tarnished almost beyond redemption by the MPs’ expenses scandal?

If the truth be told, the election of one-time Thatcherite radical John Bercow as the 157th Commons Speaker this week was probably a bit of both.

While some of the MPs who voted for him on Monday undoubtedly did so to make life uncomfortable for the Tories, who by and large detest their former colleague, others genuinely saw him as the candidate best-placed to provide a “clean break” with recent events.

Okay, so I wanted Sir Alan Beith to win, and I thought Margaret Beckett would win, but it is clear the former Foreign Secretary suffered from a backlash in the final days against what were seen as government attempts to install her.

As one sketch-writer who wrote a delightful account of the election using horseracing metaphors put it: “Mrs Beckett was deemed to have made excessive use of the whips.”

I was right about one thing, and that was that the election would be determined by whether Labour MPs decided to swing en bloc behind a single candidate

In the end they did, but that candidate was not Mrs Beckett, but Mr Bercow, who at 46 becomes the youngest Speaker since the 19th century and the first person of the Jewish faith to hold the post.

Already the new Speaker has made his mark. Indeed, anyone watching his first Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday might have concluded that he, not Gordon Brown or Mr Cameron, was the real star of the show.

Ticking off braying MPs for making too much noise during the weekly half-hour joust, he told them: “The public doesn't like it and neither do I."

On another occasion, he told the Tory backbencher Michael Fabricant to calm down as "it is not good for your health".

And he cut short a rambling question by the Labour backbencher Patrick Hall on housing, telling him he had “got the gist” of what he was saying.

I suspect Mr Bercow is right in thinking that the public will be generally sympathetic to his attempts to bring what he calls “an atmosphere of calm, reasoned debate” to the parliamentary bear-pit.

But he is walking a difficult tightrope. Just as spin doctors are not supposed to become the story, neither are House of Commons Speakers.

Although it is understandable that he wanted to make a splash with his first PMQs, he will need to learn to fade into the background if he is to avoid becoming a political football like Michael Martin.

To paraphrase Dr W.G. Grace, if he starts to believe that the public have come to watch him umpiring rather than the MPs performing, then his days in the Chair will be numbered.

The central conundrum facing Mr Bercow is ultimately the one that did for Mr Martin – is the Speaker merely the servant of the House, or should he or she in some way seek to be its master?

The truth is that Mr Bercow will somehow have to be both – seeking to nudge the House in the direction of reform, while ultimately reflecting its wishes.

Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Brown, at least, do not have that dilemma. Each of them is seeking to persuade the public that he is the man to “clean up politics” in the wake of the expenses scandal.

Sadly for the Prime Minister, it is a contest which currently he is decisively losing.

From the start of the expenses row, Mr Cameron has led the way in taking action against his own recalcitrant MPs, and this week he ordered them to pay back another £125,000 to the taxpayer.

The Tory leader seems to be preparing the ground for a large-scale clearout which could see up to half of the current crop of Conservative MPs stand down at the election.

In a speech this week, he also sought to link the need for reform with the need for people to regain power over their own lives, highlighting the drift towards the “surveillance state” under Labour.

Mr Brown has concentrated more on wider constitutional reforms, but has been predictably outflanked on this score by Mr Clegg, who has the advantage of leading a party that genuinely believes in it.

In a speech this week, the Prime Minister said voters wanted to see his government clean-up politics, help people through the recession, and – wait for it – “put forward our vision.”

But the fact that Mr Brown is still talking about setting out his “vision” two years after coming to power is surely emblematic of the failure of his administration.

Nowhere has this failure been more acute than in the field of restoring trust in politics, which was supposed to be the big theme of his premiership in the wake of the loans for lordships scandal and the general moral decay of the Blair years.

If cleaning-up Parliament had been part of Mr Brown’s confounded “vision” in the first place, Parliament would probably not be in the mess it is in now.

free web site hit counter

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Could it be Prime Minister Bercow one day?

At the risk of giving the Tories another bout of apoplexy, there are some interesting historical precedents surrounding the election of very young House of Commons Speakers in terms of what happened in their subsequent careers.

The year 1789 is chiefly remembered for being the year of the French Revolution. But it was also the year the Commons elected two thirty-something Speakers who both went on to occupy Number 10 Downing Street.

The first of these was William Grenville, who was elected Speaker at the ripe old age of 30 and held the office only very briefly before quitting to become Home Secretary.

In his place was elected the 32-year-old Henry Addington, who remained in the Chair until 1801 when he suddenly found himself elevated to the Premiership in place of his childhood friend Pitt the Younger, who declared that Addington was the only successor he could countenance.

In the meantime, Grenville had gone into opposition, along with his close ally Charles James Fox. But in 1806, he was summoned by King George III to head up what was termed the Ministry of All Talents, though unfortunately for him, it only lasted a year.

Even further back, in 1715, one Spencer Compton was elected to the Commons chair at the age of 42 - four years younger than John Bercow is now. He served as Speaker for 12 years until 1727, when he was elevated to the House of Lords as the 1st Earl of Wilmington. In 1742, he succeeded Sir Robert Walpole as Prime Minister.

Bercow has said he will do nine years in the Chair, effectively two full Parliaments plus the toe-end of this one. That will make him 55 when he stands down - younger than Gordon Brown was when he became Prime Minister in 2007.

The only remaining question is: If Bercow did decide to pursue a post-Speakership career, would it be as a Tory or a Labour MP?

free web site hit counter

Monday, June 22, 2009

Good luck Speaker Bercow, you will need it

Okay, so I wanted Alan Beith to win, and I thought Margaret Beckett would win, but on reflection I'm glad John Bercow has won, such was the degree of mindless hostility shown to him by the Tory Party and its apologists in the national press over recent days.

Quentin Letts is without doubt one of our most gifted writers and humourists, and some of his criticisms of the man he christened "Gorbals Mick" were justified, but his recent piece on why Bercow shouldn't succeed Michael Martin was the quite the most vicious and unpleasant outpouring of journalistic bile I have read in many a long day.

It makes me wonder what slight, real or imagined, could have led Quentin to pen such a vitriolic piece? The effect of it, on me at any rate, was actually to induce sympathy for poor Bercow - not an emotion I am accustomed to feeling towards Tory politicians.

As to the well-known right-wing blogger who cheered on the Stop Bercow campaign from the sidelines - I won't bother to link to him - his own dislike of the man was clearly down to good old-fashioned religious intolerance. Bercow does support Rangers after all.

I did wonder if there might have been a bit of religious intolerance of another sort going on in what has been a rather unedifying episode for the Tory benches. But we have to take at face value David Cameron's generous tribute to the fact that Bercow is the first Speaker of the Jewish faith.

In terms of the bigger picture, the Commons now has a Speaker with a very clear mandate for reform. It's a good result for the progressive forces in British politics, a bad one for those who somehow wanted to use this election not to advance the reform process, but to stall it.

free web site hit counter

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Who will win the race for the Speakership?

By all rights it should be Sir Alan Beith, but it probably won't be. Here's today's Journal column.

It is often the case with politicians that nothing so becomes them in their conduct of an office as the leaving of it, and this week, House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin proved he was no exception.

For nine years, he has presided uneasily over a Chamber which elected him to the post for quite the wrong reasons in the first place, and has had good cause to regret that choice moreorless ever since.

The errors of judgement have been legion, from his early refusal to call MPs who had failed to vote for him in 2000, to the ill-starred attempt to block freedom of information requests over MPs’ expenses last year.

Yet at the same time, it is impossible not to feel some sympathy for the doughty old Glaswegian, especially over the manner of his dismissal by MPs seeking a convenient scapegoat for their own moral failures.

It was inevitable that the outgoing Speaker would allude to that in his valedictory speech on Thursday, lamenting the lack of leadership shown by the main party leaders in failing to reform the expenses system sooner.

Predictable too were the treacly tributes paid to Mr Martin by the very people who brought him down – not least Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg who praised his “great authority.”

Some will call it hypocrisy, but in reality it’s just the way of the world. Just as we don’t speak ill of the dead, so in politics people tend not to speak ill of the political living dead.

Since his resignation last month, much of the anger and hostility that had built up against Mr Martin has dissipated, as it invariably does in politics. One day soon, no doubt, they will praise Gordon Brown for his “great leadership” too.

So who should replace him in Monday’s election? Well, there are ten candidates – seven Tories, two Labour members, and a lone Liberal Democrat in the shape of our very own Berwick MP, Sir Alan Beith.

The Tories are a fascinatingly varied bunch, ranging from a candidate in John Bercow who is a Labour MP in all but name, to one in Sir Patrick Cormack who is the epitome of the old ‘knights of the shires’ who used to dominate the Tory benches.

In between, they have the “bicycling baronet,” Sir George Young, two serving deputy speakers in Sir Alan Haselhurst and Sir Michael Lord, and the backbench maverick Richard Shepherd – all four of them making their second attempts on the job.

Finally, there is the Tories’ “interim candidate”- former Home Office minister Anne Widdecombe, whose intention to use the ten months between now and the general election to clean up Parliament is surely beyond even her formidable talents.

On the Labour side, there are two wildly contrasting contenders – the 37-year-old former junior minister Parmjit Dhanda, and the vastly experienced former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett.

Two weeks ago, Mrs Beckett was begging Mr Brown in vain to make her a full member of the Cabinet once again, yet her subsequent emergence as a serious runner for the Speakership shows once more just what a political survivor she is.

Mr Dhanda, bidding to become the first ethnic minority Speaker, has fought an equally remarkable campaign, attracting highly positive reviews for someone so relatively inexperienced.

Finally there is Sir Alan, also running for the second time and the man with surely the hardest task in the race, in that he will need to attract most of his support from MPs of a different party to win.

So who should get the job? Well, a lot depends on whether MPs take a high-minded view of the needs of Parliament, or whether, like the last Speakership election, it becomes dominated by faction-fighting and tactical considerations.

In the wake of the expenses scandal all the contenders, in one way or another, are running as “pro-reform” candidates, but only one of them can point to a consistent record of being pro-reform over the course of four decades.

As he put it in his manifesto: “Public anger has created both a need and an opportunity for wider constitutional change, which is something to which I have been committed throughout my political life.”

There is little doubt in my mind that if MPs want a parliamentary reformer who really means it, they should elect Sir Alan Beith on Monday.

But will he get it? I have to say I think it’s unlikely, based on the fact that for all the talk of putting Parliament first, the two big parties still have a tendency to vote tribally in these sorts of situations.

At one point, Labour MPs looked set to try to impose Mr Bercow, who is disliked on his own benches, in revenge for the Tories’ role in bringing down their shop steward, Mr Martin.

There has been less of such talk in recent days, but the desire to dish the opposition is always a factor in politics and even though it is the Tories’ “turn” to provide the Speaker, both their leading candidates have been tainted by the expenses row.

Sir Alan Haselhurst was found to have charged his £12,000 gardening bill to the taxpayer, while Sir George Young claimed the maximum £127,000 in second home allowances over past two years.

If the next Speaker is to be a Conservative, Sir George still appears to be the one most capable of winning cross-party support, but one factor that cannot be ignored is that Labour still has by far the largest number of MPs.

If those MPs decide to swing behind one candidate en bloc, as they did with Mr Martin in 2000, that candidate is going to be very hard to beat.

My judgement therefore is that the next Speaker will be the candidate who can secure the most support from Labour MPs, while at the same time attracting a significant number of votes from the other parties.

On that basis, I am going to stick my neck out and say that the likeliest winner of the race to be the 157th Speaker of the House of Commons is Mrs Margaret Beckett.

free web site hit counter

Friday, June 19, 2009

The wit and wisdom of Clive Soley

Clive Soley was one of my least favourite Labour MPs on several counts - his long campaign to curb freedom of the press, his mindless cheerleading for Tony Blair during the Iraq War when as PLP chair he could have exercised a moderating influence, and his general pomposity.

So I was amused to read his speech during yesterday's House of Lords debate on the government's decision to hold an inquiry into the 2003 conflict.

I say to the lawyers that if their argument had prevailed in the past then Pol Pot would still be running Cambodia, because the Vietnamese illegally removed him; Idi Amin would still be running Uganda, because the Tanzanians illegally removed him; and East Pakistan would still be running what is now Bangladesh, because the Indians illegally removed it.

Isn't the noble lord forgetting two crucial facts: that both Pol Pot and Idi Amin are, er, dead?

free web site hit counter

The new blog

Since I took over the editorship of HoldtheFrontPage just over a year ago, my work has drawn me more and more into media reporting.

We've now launched a news and aggregation blog called The Journalism Hub to highlight some of the wealth of content available on HTFP, as well as on UK journalism blogs and other respected media news sources.

Athough I will be keeping this blog going as an outlet for my political writing and occassional personal rambles, The Journalism Hub is where I'll be doing most of my blogging from now on.

If you're a regular visitor here, and particularly if you're interested in the journalism-politics interface, I hope you'll pay us a visit.

free web site hit counter

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Why Johnson will still take over in the end

Gordon Brown may have survived the Cabinet crisis and the Euro-elections debacle, but Alan Johnson is still in the driving seat to lead Labour into the next election. Here's today's Journal column.

Shortly after coming to power in 1997, the newly-elected Prime Minister Tony Blair asked his political mentor, Roy Jenkins, to carry out a wide-ranging inquiry into the voting system.

Lord Jenkins’ report, published the following year, recommended a form of proportional representation for Westminster based on the so-called ‘alternative vote’ in which candidates are ranked in order of preference.

Mr Blair, whose party had committed in its 1997 manifesto to holding a referendum on the voting system, was genuinely torn as to how to proceed, with Robin Cook and Paddy Ashdown among those urging him to cross the Rubicon.

But in the end, he was talked out of it by an alliance of senior figures within his own Cabinet, and Labour’s plans for voting reform were kicked, seemingly permanently, into that bit of St James’s Park where they can’t quite get the mower.

The senior Labour figures in question included the then deputy leader John Prescott, who has always been hostile to PR, and Jack Straw, who put the boot into the Jenkins Report in the Commons almost before the ink on it was dry.

But among them also was Chancellor Gordon Brown, as ever playing to the Old Labour gallery in his efforts to undermine Mr Blair and shore up his own power-base within the party.

More than a decade on, and facing the loss of the power he has dedicated his adult life to acquiring, Mr Brown has decided voting reform might be worth another look as part of a wide-ranging package of constitutional measures to restore trust in politics.

But as the Good Book says, you reap what you sow, and Mr Brown’s apparent deathbed conversion to PR has surely come too late to be taken seriously, still less as a means of relaunching his troubled premiership.

On the one hand, one can admire Mr Brown’s resilience in attempting to bounce back from last week’s Cabinet crisis and Sunday’s Euro-election drubbing by launching a set of proposals which would transform the British system of government.

On the other, you can simply view him as deluded. After all, this is a man who cannot even order his own Cabinet around, let alone carry out what would be the biggest set of constitutional reforms since Magna Carta.

The tragedy for the Prime Minister is that constitutional reform – or cleaning up politics in tabloid-speak - really could have been his “Big Idea,” had he been bolder about it at the start of his premiership.

Now, nearly two years on, it simply looks like a belated reaction to the continuing tide of parliamentary sleaze on the one hand, and on the other, Mr Brown’s desperate need to find some sort of purpose to his remaining in power.

There are essentially two reasons why the Prime Minister survived the coup attempt led by former Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell when he stormed out of the Cabinet a week ago last Thursday.

The first and most obvious is the that Labour MPs do not want to be pitchforked into fighting a general election which they know they would lose.

Rightly or wrongly, the idea that a new leader would be obliged to hold an immediate general election has taken hold at Westminster, and the line was being heavily spun by Mr Brown’s supporters last weekend.

Looked at from this perspective, the point at issue for Labour MPs at their crunch meeting on Monday evening was not so much whether the Prime Minister should stand down before the election, as when.

My own view, for what it’s worth, is that there is no way the Labour Party is going to allow Mr Brown to lead it into the next election, for the simple reason that it knows there is no way the public is going to vote for another five years of him.

But given that the election has to be held next Spring anyway, there is an inescapable logic to delaying any change in the leadership for now.

If, say, the change were to be delayed until the New Year, it would enable a new leader to take over close enough to the election not to have to bring it any further forward.

What Mr Brown has done over the past week is not so much “seen off” the threat to his leadership, as earned the right a dignified resignation at some point between the party conferences and Christmas.

But the second reason why the Prime Minister survived was quite simply the identity of those trying to unseat him - “wrong plot, wrong plotters” as one MP put it.

Whatever Mr Brown’s shortcomings, the great majority of Labour MPs do not want a Blairite restoration in any shape or form, and as soon as it became clear that the coup was essentially a Blairite enterprise, the whole thing was doomed to failure.

Mr Purnell is undoubtedly a bright lad, but he suffers from the considerable drawback of looking like Tony Blair’s junior research assistant, which indeed he was until he became an MP.

Likewise Ms Blears is a doughty campaigner and a highly effective communicator, but her nickname in the PLP, Mrs Pepperpot, gives some idea of the level of esteem in which she is held by her colleagues.

In a revealing BBC radio interview on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary and South Shields MP David Miliband said Mr Brown would remain in power because “the main contender Alan Johnson” was supporting the Prime Minister.

This tell us three things. First, that Mr Brown is now dependent on Mr Johnson’s support. Second, that Mr Johnson can take over any time he wants. Third, that when that time comes, Mr Miliband will support him.

The Labour Party has finally reached a settled will on the future of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, but it is not that he will lead them into the next general election for good or ill.

It is that he will be replaced, at a decent interval and in a suitably dignified way, by the man he has just appointed Home Secretary.

free web site hit counter

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Brown should go down fighting

Rather than suffer political death by a thousand cuts - or resignations - has the time come for Gordon Brown to employ the ultimate sanction against the Blairite rebels? Here's today's column.

A few weeks ago, in the wake of the 'smeargate' scandal, I predicted that a bad result for Labour in the European and local elections on 4 June would cause all hell to break loose in the party over the ensuing 48 hours.

Well, it seems I was wrong on the last point. In the end, the party didn't even wait until the elections were over before plunging Gordon Brown's premiership into its worst crisis yet.

Labour was already facing a hiding on Thursday before the twin resignations of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Communities Secretary Hazel Blears sent the government into near-meltdown.

And since one of the unalterable maxims of politics is that divided parties invariably get a hammering in elections, it is no great surprise that the results already look like being the party's worst ever.

The full picture won't be known until the Euro-election results are published tomorrow, with the very real possibility that UKIP and the Lib Dems may have pushed Labour into fourth place.

But with the Tories taking control of once-safe Labour councils such as Lancashhire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire, the scale of the carnage is already becoming pretty clear.

Once again, the old campaigner is refusing to give in without a fight, reshuffling his Cabinet yesterday with just about enough ‘big beasts’ still onside to fill the vacant jobs.

But with Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell joining those who are no longer prepared to work for the Prime Minister, the odds on him surviving even the next week have lengthened considerably.

It is a mark of Mr Brown's extreme weakness that the resignation of a political pygmy like Ms Blears should have provoked the near-collapse of his administration on Wednesday.

Let's not forget that this is a woman who in recent weeks has been forced to pay £13,000 of previously unpaid capital gains tax on the sale of a second home refurbished at taxpayers' expense.

If she didn’t deserve to be sacked on the spot for that, she certainly should have been for the blatant disloyalty and opportunism of her “You Tube if you want to” attack on Mr Brown last month.

Perhaps foolishly, the Prime Minister decided to leave her in place until the reshuffle, giving her the opportunity to further display her lack of loyalty by stabbing him in the front 24 hours before a vital election.

Ms Blears' dramatic exit, though, pales into insignificance besides that of arch-Blairite Mr Purnell. Not only was he not going to be sacked, he was actually going to be promoted.

So far, the rest of the Cabinet has refused to follow his lead, with Defence Secretary and Barrow MP John Hutton making clear that his own decision to stand down yesterday was for family reasons rather than as part of a Blairite revolt.

Mr Brown’s survival now depends on how many backbenchers rally behind the standard of rebellion that Mr Purnell has raised, with an email demanding that Mr Brown step down circulating among MPs

Since Mr Purnell does not himself intend to stand for the leadership, the rebels are still in search of a candidate capable of gaining the 70 MPs’ signatures necessary to provoke a challenge.

The initial impact of the resignations has been to dramatically limit the scope of what Mr Brown was able to achieve with yesterday's chances.

It is pretty clear he wanted to replace Alistair Darling with Ed Balls as Chancellor, but such is Mr Balls' unpopularity among Labour MPs that in the end, Mr Brown had no option but to abandon the idea.

Also staying put is South Shields MP and Foreign Secretary David Miliband, despite reports that Mr Brown wanted to give his job for former Hartlepool MP Lord Mandelson.

Besides Messrs Darling and Miliband, the big winner is leadership heir-apparent Alan Johnson, promoted to Ms Smith’s old job at the Home Office, after her predecessor John Reid apparently ruled out a return to the role.

In some respects, it is possible to argue that the government has been strengthened as a result of this week’s events, with highly capable ministers such as John Denham, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper all earning promotions.

And both Messrs Balls and Mandelson get beefed-up departments, sharing between them the spoils of the short-lived and now-defunct Department for Universities, Innovation and Skills.

But while the reshuffle may have taken some of the sting out of the rebellion, it is unlikely to be the end of the story - especially if tomorrow's results turn out as badly as expected.

The rebel email is still doing the rounds. Labour's supporters in the national press are deserting the Prime Minister. And Ms Smith, Ms Blears and Mr Purnell still have the chance to make Geoffrey Howe-style personal statements to the House.

But the Prime Minister does have one weapon left in his armoury to use against the rebels - ironically the very course of action Tory leader David Cameron has been urging on him for months.

It is quite simply to call a general election. The party would then have no option but to call off all the plotting and rally round its leader.

Of course, Mr Brown would lose, but he would at least go down fighting at the hands of the electorate rather than at the hands of the Blairites, and he would at least earn the public's gratitude for the manner of his departure.

The logic is clear. If Mr Brown wants to be sure of leading the Labour Party into the next election, he should call it now.

free web site hit counter

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."

free web site hit counter