Two thoughts occur:
Firstly, congratulations to Jim Murphy, who ascends to Secretary of State for Scotland. Congratulations also to the Scotland Office, which regains a full-time member of the Cabinet. Murphy will be an effective voice for the UK Government in Scotland. It remains to be seen whether the reverse is true: having a full-time SoS should, in theory, help, but the previous full time Secretaries of State after devolution did not have a good track record: John Reid was not Henry McLeish's favourite person (if his "patronising bastard" comment is anything to go by) while Helen Liddell didn't do anything to upset Bute House, but did seem to spend her working day taking French lessons and was sent to Australia so she could make way from the House of Commons for John Reid (whose seat had disappered in the last set of Boundary changes) and managed to annoy people over there for making a speech on a major political issue (Iraq) in the Australian election, which was getting ever closer. Jim Murphy has to face the added variable of dealing with an SNP Government.
However, his experience as Europe Minister will serve him in good stead. He spent most of his time explaining why we shouldn't have a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon. So he can just dust off his old press releases, tipp-ex out "Treaty of Lisbon" and write in its place "independence". Bingo! Problem solved.
But one point worth bringing up: Des Browne's position in Parliament was vulnerable to an SNP advance, particularly in light of recent polls. Murphy's position is equally vulnerable, only he faces a challenge from the Tories. Having said that, unless Murphy's approach as the UK Government's spokesman in Scotland really antagonises the people of East Renfrewshire, he might well buck the trends: the Tory candidate, Richard Cook, has the look of someone who ought to be a League of Gentlemen character and I think that will count against him in 2010. On a more serious note, he's also one of Michael Forsyth's creatures, and Forsyth held the role that Murphy now holds... and held it when the Tories were wiped out in Scotland - an event which benefitted Jim Murphy. If Forsyth and his approach helped make that wipeout happen, can one of his supporters help make a Tory recovery happen? I suspect not, and anyway, how will a Forsyth-supporter fit into a cuddly-wuddly, touchy-feely, Cameron-led Conservative Party? Not very well.
Anyway. One other point on the bigger talking point of the re-shuffle: the return of New Labour's King Over The Water. No one's stopped to consider this point: who actually wants to be Business Secretary right now? The global economy is in a downward-cycle, it's harder to get credit (that kills off start-up loans for a lot of potential businesses), banks are failing, economists are panicking, the gains made today on the Dow Jones Industrial Average halved the minute the House of Representatives voted to back the US Administration's bail-out plan, governments are diving for the cover of protectionism and with a bank collapse in the US wiping out jobs in the UK, globalisation appears to be making the problems worse. So being in the Government job that's all about stimulating trade and investment when no one fancies trading or investing is going to be pretty thankless.
In short: Peter Mandelson is the Government's official shit-shoveller.
Think when Henry McLeish appointed Jack McConnell Education Minister, just weeks after the SQA exam result fiasco - a move that backfired when history didn't repeat itself a year later.
Or when Jack McConnell took Wendy Alexander's Enterprise & Lifelong Learning portfolio, and added Transport to it - a move which helped trigger her resignation from the Executive six months later, and an arrangement which McConnell scrapped at the earliest opportunity, having achieved his objective.
Or when Wendy Alexander gave Andy Kerr a vague, borderline meaningless and slightly Hacker-esque portfolio in her Shadow Cabinet.
This is a pattern with Leaders in Scottish Labour: bring threats into the fold, but give them jobs that are at best pointless or at worst nigh-on impossible, and hope that they don't manage to pull the mother of all rabbits out of the hat. It's a well-established trend, and Brown is continuing it.
03 October 2008
Two thoughts occur: