?

Log in

No account? Create an account
parrot_knight [userpic]

The Cabinet reshuffle

May 6th, 2006 (01:32 pm)
Tags:

current music: Random selection of Dar Williams tracks

I watched yesterday's reshuffle with bemusement and alarm. Overnight, during the election results coverage, Guardian Unlimited were speculating that Geoff Hoon, who had hinted on the BBC's election night programme that he was moving jobs, would become home secretary; and when the news of his new job was leaked, it was first reported online that he was to become secretary of state for Europe, in a new department carved out of the Foreign Office. In fact, he is merely minister of state for Europe, a demotion from leader of the House of Commons. In recent years the minister for Europe has attended the Cabinet without being a Cabinet minister; but the previous incumbent, Douglas Alexander, has been promoted into the Cabinet proper as transport secretary. Hoon has family responsibilities - three teenage children, I think - and unlike many Conservative politicians who were offered demotions during the Thatcher and Major governments, Hoon doesn't (as far as I know) have income from private business to fall back on.

If this reshuffle was intended to make the government look more vigorous, it has failed in my eyes. John Reid does not inspire me as home secretary; his approach seems too thuggish for my liking, and furthermore he has changed cabinet office every year since he entered the Cabinet in 1999. He has a reputation as a firefighter and crisis manager and has never been in office long enough to really show that he can lead a department. I have yet to be convinced that he can lead the notoriously complex Home Office, though he may be able to convince Downing Street that he can spin successfully on Number 10's obsessions with crime figures and the issue of illegal immigrant criminals being released without deportation, the issue which sunk Reid's predecessor in the Home Office Charles Clarke. I'd initially assumed that Tony Blair had secretly accepted Charles Clarke's resignation a few weeks ago, but that the two men had agreed to postpone Clarke's departure in the (mistaken) belief that it would be better to tough the situation out in the run up to the local polls. However, this wasn't the case, and Clarke instead turned down two lower-ranking portfolios when he was refused the Foreign Office.

My first thought on seeing that Margaret Beckett was foreign secretary was that emily_shore would be pleased, and I see that she is. It's a pity for her that this has come much later than it might have done for the nearly-woman of Labour politics. I've been guilty of underestimating Margaret Beckett myself in the past; I've seen her sneered at as the dupe of her civil servants in the past, but she has reportedly remodelled several received opinions at the Department of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, and could well be an effective foreign secretary.

If Tony Blair really wanted to impress his party and the electorate with a display of credibility, he really needed to remove other ministers, such as Tessa Jowell, who with her husband David Mills projects the image of two confidence tricksters playing a long game with the Labour party and the British electorate. Perhaps now that Silvio Berlusconi is edging slowly out of office in Italy, we will learn more about Mills's involvement in his dubious business affairs. Instead he's fashioned what immediately looked to me like a caretaker administration, with the Home Office and the Foreign Office in the hands of trusted old retainers - John Reid's hopes of becoming prime minister are entirely dependent on a good relationship with Tony Blair, while Jack Straw was allegedly removed from the Foreign Office because he had become too independent. Such are the weaknesses of modern parliamentary government and its fixation with centralised management. There is one internal 'loyal opposition' around Gordon Brown, which could be relied on to renew the party (to use current jargon) in a post-Blair era; but ideally Blair would always have been more comfortable with independent spirits than he has been.

Writing of jargon, is anyone else depressed by the titles of the new ministries, which seem to reflect contemporary buzzword thinking than more considered reflection on the problems of this country. We now have a Cabinet 'minister for social exclusion' and a 'secretary of state for communities'. How fragmented this government's view of the present and future seems.

Comments

Posted by: Disparate Housewife (wryelle)
Posted at: May 6th, 2006 02:20 pm (UTC)

Writing of jargon, is anyone else depressed by the titles of the new ministries, which seem to reflect contemporary buzzword thinking than more considered reflection on the problems of this country. We now have a Cabinet 'minister for social exclusion' and a 'secretary of state for communities'.

Hmm. Yes. There's nothing like pretending you're doing something about a problem by renaming it. When I get out of local government, if I never hear phrases such as "community capacity building" again, it will be too soon.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 6th, 2006 08:20 pm (UTC)
salmon

Unfortunately I think that doublespeak of this sort is universal nowadays; the intention is to lead us into a kind of quadruplethink, where we are led to believe that problems of one sort are resolved, and replaced by new problems, whereas those who lead - or manage - us have simply changed the terminology.

Posted by: bunn (bunn)
Posted at: May 6th, 2006 04:34 pm (UTC)

If Tony Blair really wanted to impress his party and the electorate with a display of credibility

... he should have started years ago, it's far too late now!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 6th, 2006 08:22 pm (UTC)

Yet, alarmingly, there are still many people who would vote for a Tony Blair-led Labour party, who would not vote for it led by 'that Scottish socialist', as one member of the Question Time audience referred to Gordon Brown earlier in the week.

Posted by: helflaed (helflaed)
Posted at: May 6th, 2006 04:50 pm (UTC)

I seem to recall that some time ago in the dim and distant past, Tony Blair said something about retiring before the next General Election?

If, as I suspect, he may be attempting to groom a successor to take over from him and prevent Gordon Brown from doing so then he is making a big mistake. I have a nasty feeling that he will end up with a few knives in the back- whether the Labour party will decide to get rid of him in quiet such a spectacular fashion as the Conservatives did with Margaret Thatcher remains to be seen.

Once he was Labour's greatest PR asset. Now he is fast becoming an electoral liability.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 6th, 2006 09:01 pm (UTC)

The mechanism for replacing the leader of the Labour party is more complex, I think, than that which removed Margaret Thatcher as leader of the Conservative party in 1990. It's never a good position to be in to be the groomed successor, either - Margaret Thatcher went through several, and John Major, the last anointed heir, soon emphasised that he was not going to let Thatcher be his 'backseat driver'.

Posted by: helflaed (helflaed)
Posted at: May 6th, 2006 09:25 pm (UTC)

I'm sure they'd manage somehow.....even if it is more difficult than getting a stalking horse or two organised.

I honestly can't remember the last time that a Labour leader has had to be pushed rather than jump- as I seem to recall both Kinnock and Foot resigned. I think that Callaghan may have resigned as well.

Funnily enough- I happened to be at the Houses of Parliament the day Margaret Thatcher resigned. We went down with the 6th form and only found out when we got there. Not only did we get a guided tour, but also had some tickets to PMQ- and I got in, although we had to draw lots as there were not enough for all of us. Dennis Skinner had agreed to see us and answer any questions earlier in the day. In spite of the turn of events he still went ahead and saw us, although he must have been very busy.

Probably my most eventful school trip!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 6th, 2006 09:42 pm (UTC)

I was at the House of Commons the day before the resignation. There were lots of MPs around being agitated. I remember Emma Nicholson and Jonathan Aitken talking animatedly and conspiratorially against a wall, but they were not so self-absorbed for Emma Nicholson not to break off and give my sister's outfit a thumbs up. Michael Heseltine strode into the Commons just as we were leaving - he had presence but was extremely self-aware.