03 October 2008

On the reshuffle

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.


Ted Harvey said...

Mandelson's return is a farce, an utter farce that smacks once again of moving the deck chairs around. Much of the following I have said elsewhere but it more than bears the repeating.

Mandelson’s grinning (leering?) pompous and, well let’s just say oleaginous, personality oozed out all over the media screens on Friday. It’s a hugely negative own score, with the electorate reminded (and this mornings media making sure of it) of Lord Sleeze and Prince of Darkness.

Brown has brought back to the Cabinet a New Labourite who celebrated in saying that Labour was ‘very comfortable about people getting filthy rich’ – just at the point of huge anger and anxiety among the voters over fat cats and market failure to deliver. And on a sad little note, a Labour Government enobles him as a Lord to get him into Cabinet; at least being a Lord will suit his persona.

I suspect that the reality here is that what is crudely called the Blairtite wing of the Party cannot stand Brown, believes he has turned out as they predicted and that he seems to be out of favour with the electorate – but even these ‘Blairities’ believe that to change Leader again before the election is not on.

Consequently they have carried out a subtle palace coup. The offer-not-to-be-refused is that Brown stays as a neutered Leader whilst the Old Guard ‘Blairities’ like Mandleson must be brought back.. and meantime we have Campbell and Blair back on board albeit off-stage.

The final catalyst in this unfolding coup was the hamfisted (or great clunking fist?) handling of the ‘I want to spend more time with my family’ Ruth Kelly fiasco.

If Mandelson’s return were all down to Brown it would anyway represent yet another sorry illustration of his faulted decision-making and lack of determination. First he ‘signals’ and signs that he is going one way and then he dithers, and then he comes up with a decision that is a bit of this and a bit of that.

"Jim Murphy as an effecrtive voice of the UK Government in Scotland". Hmmm??? Are you damning him with faint praise?:) Bringing in another true New Labour, Westminster-based MP whose (at-the-time admirable) success was in taking and holding what was the most Tory seat in Scotland – that is no basis for attending effectively to the new and changing Scottish scenario so far driven by the SNP.... and certainly if he is going to contimue the role of UK Viceroy to the Region.

Scot by choice said...

Hi Jarthur, I'm not so sure about Jim possibilities as "an effective voice for the UK Government in Scotland" if he keeps making gaffes like the one in Radio Scotland naming Gray the leader of the SNP at Holyrood.

I kid you not.

In any case having as main brief from Broon to bring the fight to the SNP, is not exactly a role I should expect from a member of any government, but from an assistant researcher in the Labour Party on their payroll, not the tax-payer.

I'm not complaining, at the end of the day Jim just means more vote for us, wait and see.

By the by, dealing with any SNP government is not a variable but a certainty.

Helen who?

Blagger1 said...

Umm, we all know who Labour's real "King Over the Water" is...

After Mandy, Beckett and possibly even Blunkett returning I couldn't even rule that one out!

Will said...

For the sake of those suggesting that this was a Blairite coup, I would argue that it's an attempt to stop one, and that the Blairites already have de facto control of events, just as the Thatcherites had control over the Tories. They will be able to keep a vice-like grip on affairs, and destabilise key figures who choose a different path, for no other reason than petty resentment.

Remember: the Thatcherite Tories took the ground from under John Major's feet, and replace him with William Hague. When they weren't satisfied with him, they ditched him and put IDS in his place. When he failed, they axed him and crowned Michael Howard their champion. And if it hadn't been for Brown's failure to call a General Election last year, they'd have done David Cameron in by now as well. As it is, he's now the first Tory Leader since Thatcher in the mid-80s who is too strong to face an internal threat.

Blairites will do the same to Labour.

And Blagger1, he was based in Brussels, so I felt a little artistic licence was needed. ;)