Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No substitute for experience

I am not, in principle, opposed to the idea of governments of all the talents, but the idea that you can take people who have been successful in one milieu and expect them to be able to repeat that success in the political arena has always seemed a dubious one to me.

So it doesn't greatly surprise me that Alan West has become the latest of Gordon's fresh talents to find himself in political difficulties, following on from the controversies that have surrounded Mark Malloch Brown, Digby Jones and Ara Darzi in the months since their original appointments.

A conspiracy theorist might see it all as evidence of a dark plot by Labour MPs to get rid of a bunch of outsiders they never wanted in the government in the first place, in the hope that next time round, the jobs might actually be handed out within the PLP.

Tempting though that theory undoubtedly is, I think it just shows there really is no substitute for political experience.

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Anonymous said...

Well it certainly seems to be keeping the GOAT herd busy.

Anonymous said...

It's been tried before, by Ted Heath with John Davies, and Harold Wilson with Frank Cousins. Neither experiment ended happily, with Davies' phrase 'lame ducks' serving as an albatross round his government's neck, and him later dying from a brain haemorrhage (caused, many believe, by the stress and overwork of acting as a spokesman on Foreign Affairs in Mrs Thatcher's Shadow Cabinet).

Cousins, meanwhile, resigned his seat just two years after being elected in a specially created by-election.

There was also Lord Young, of Cable & Wireless, in Mrs Thatcher's government. He claimed to have grabbed Norman Tebbit by the lapels and said 'Norman, we're going to lose this f***ing election'.

Apart from trying to live down the control freak image, I think Brown was inspired to bring in the likes of Lord West and 'Dinosaur' Digby by his fascination with US politics, where such appointments are commonplace (particularly from other parties, as with JFK's appointment of Douglas Dillon as Treasury Secretary, Clinton's appointment of William Cohen as Defence Secretary, and George W Bush making Norman Minetta his Transportation Secretary).

The difference, however, between the US and British systems is that, here, ministers are answerable to Parliament (whether it be the Commons or Lords), and also probably receive greater media scrutiny.

MorrisOx said...

Paul, I might have some sympathy for your view but for the fact that the political arena is already littered with the carcasses of political 'professionals' who can out-amateur all comers.

Digby Jones, who I've met a few times, is there to serve a constituency whose considered opinion so far is that he is doing an excellent job batting for Britain on overseas trade missions and generally telling it like it is (as he has continued to do ever since that Lords debut). I don't think he really gives a monkey's if a few stuffed shirts on the Labour benches come over all jealous. Similarly, he smiles wrily at those departmental stick-in-the-muds who are beginning to realise that he doesn't have any designs on the greasy pole, and won't be promoted elsewhere because he wasn't elected. They'r stuck with him for the duration (at which point he'll walk back into the private sector and resume a better salary).

'Political experience' may have its uses, but I don't think you should suppose that people like Digby Jones or Mark Malloch Brown are somehow rank amateurs. Digby, for one, is far more professional than some people in his department realise. He also carries a lot more clout than John Hutton ever will.