Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A strong-ish and stable government

So, what to make of the new Cabinet line-up unveiled by Nick and Dave (as they are now referring to eachother) earlier today?

On the whole, it looks like a good team. For those of us whose primary concern is to ensure that this is a radical reforming government, the key to it is Nick Clegg's appointment as Deputy Prime Minister with responsibility for constitutional and political reform. This should mean Clegg exercising real influence over the government's political direction, and should ensure he doesn't end up like Geoffrey Howe, for whom the title of DPM was no more than a courtesy.

Other plus points for me include Ken Clarke's move to head up the Justice Ministry - a suitably weighty job for a man who still has much to contribute to British political life - and the return of IDS, who now gets the chance to show that social justice and right-wing Conservatism are not necessarily contradictions in terms.

I'm also naturally delighted to see Chris Huhne given the climate change ministry, given his excellent work in this field on the Lib Dem frontbench prior to his 2007 leaderhsip challenge. Doubtless Matthew Parris will have other views, but Chris is a politician of the first rank and richly deserves this opportunity.

On the downside, I think the Tories have probably hogged one or two jobs for their own people that might justifiably have been given up to brighter Lib Dem talents. What will Owen Paterson bring to the Northern Ireland job that Paddy Ashdown, say, would not have done? What will make 1997 retread Andrew Mitchell a better International Development Secretary than, for instance, Ed Davey or Michael Moore? The need to retain a certain balance between Tories and Lib Dems has militated against having the best people in some areas.

I also think Cameron has missed an opportunity to bring back David Davis, and his failure to do so moreorless condemns the one-time leadership contender to seeing out his career on the backbenches. A pity, because like Ken, he too still has much to give, and his championing of the civil liberties agenda over the past couple of years would appear to be a very good fit with this new government's own priorities in that area.

On a more procedural point, I was surprised to see that the job of Leader of the House of Commons has been relegated to non-Cabinet status. This makes little sense when, in a coalition scenario, good business management will become more, not less, important to the government's fortunes. I was also surprised to see the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland offices all retained even though both parties have at various points in the past called for them to be subsumed within a single Department for Devolution.

Finally, for professional reasons, I was disappointed to see Jeremy Hunt go into DCMS - for what appear to be entirely ideological reasons he has vowed to scrap the independently-funded regional TV news pilots that could have provided a lifeline for the regional press, but doubtless this will be covered in greater depth in the days and weeks to come in another place.

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