28 October 2009

Labour Reshuffle

Whilst struck down with the manflu, I saw that Iain Gray has re-shuffled his team. I confess that at first I thought that it was a hallucination - much like the time I was delirious with food poisoning and ended up thinking I was Gordon Brown, tottering around the house mumbling about how I was going to "sort out that bitch Cherie" - only to find that, no, this was real.

In a way, it resembles the old style Executive in that it has a plethora of senior posts. Though interestingly, the demands I seem to recall for a Minister for Economic Recovery - surely still quite relevant while the UK is still in recession - have translated into the Economy & Skills portfolio actually being absorbed by Andy Kerr's finance role. Perhaps Kerr and his Deputy, David Whitton, were under-occupied. Instead, we have a new Housing and Regeneration portfolio and one is forced to wonder what snappy title it will make way for next year when Labour finally realise that criticising a government for not paying attention to housing issues doesn't work if they're the first government since devolution to, you know, actually build new council houses. But given Labour's care and attention to the (now former) Economy and Skills portfolio, we must be wary of any notion from the Labour frontbench that housing has become a genuine priority, and should - for now - work from the basis that this is just a passing fad for Iain Gray and next year's reshuffle will see a Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Check Shirts appointed in place of this post.

Finance, Economy & Skills

Andy Kerr remains at the top here, with David Whitton as his Number 2, Lewis Macdonald still at Enterprise, Energy and Tourism and Charlie Gordon returning to the frontbench as Shadow Transport Minister, the post from which he resigned at the start of Wendy Alexander's troubles. A harbinger, perhaps?


Charlie Gordon's successor and predecessor at Transport, Des McNulty, replaces Rhona Brankin who is stepping down, though will still be formulating policy. It's a significant promotion for Des, who will be leading the attack on Fiona Hyslop - who the opposition do seem to enjoy attacking and who has been derided as the "worst Education Minister ever" - a somewhat harsh assessment of a Cabinet Secretary who finally got around to abolishing tuition fees and who did not preside over any exam result fiasco unlike Sam Galbraith. Though, interestingly, he's now chosen to blame Hnry McLeish. But I digress. The rest of the support team remains as is: Ken McIntosh at Schools, Claire Baker at Further and Higher Education, Karen Whitefield at Children & Early Years. So with those three and Rhona Brankin still drafting the actual policies, it's not entirely clear what Des McNulty will be doing with his time.

Health & Wellbeing

A return to the front bench for Jackie Baillie, who was sacked when Iain Gray first took over. Richard Simpson remains at Public Health and Frank McAveety at Sport.

Housing and Regeneration

Cathy Jamieson takes over at Labour's primary focus for synthetic outrage over the coming year, in which her first task will be to choose between supporting a Thatcherite policy like Right to Buy, or supporting the SNP Government. Mary Mulligan remains Shadow Minister for Housing, which does muddy the job description waters somewhat.


Richard Baker stays (does he have dodgy photos of Iain Gray in his desk, or something?). Let me explain why this is a mistake: Kenny MacAskill was faced with the toughest decision a Justice Secretary could ever have faced, was placed in a no-win situation, made a choice which, whatever your feelings on the matter, did lead to a major outcry and almost an international incident, and despite being in a minority Government which was outnumbered and outvoted on this issue in the Chamber, he's still the Justice Secretary. This basically makes Richard Baker the Chris Iwelumo of politics and he too remains in situ. His new Community Safety Spokesman is James Kelly, who moves from the Whips' Office.

Rural Affairs and Environment

Sarah Boyack stays here, with Elaine Murray staying as Shadow Environment Minister, Karen Gillon staying at Rural Development (though with maternity leave and illness keeping her out of the loop for a large part of last year, this is, in effect, a new appointment). A new Climate Change portfolio is added (clearly Gray is not confident in Charlie Gordon speaking on this issue as Des McNulty did) with Cathy Craigie filling the role.

The others

Pauline McNeill stays at Culture and the Constitution, John Park loses his portfolio but remains in the Shadow Cabinet as the party's campaign manager, Michael McMahon becomes Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Local Government - thus creating a set of posts that map on to neither the Cabinet nor the Parliamentary Committee structure - and Paul Martin replaces him as Business Manager. David Stewart remains as Chief Whip, with Rhoda Grant and Cathy Craigie supporting him. And of course, Johann Lamont retains her Deputy Leader position.

So what can we say about this revised front bench? Not a lot. It's larger than ever, and despite that, Iain Gray's warm words for Wendy Alexander weren't matched by a job. This is particularly telling as at this stage in the last Holyrood cycle, John Swinney was brought back onto the SNP front bench as Finance Spokesman after a year as a Committee Convener having brought his Leadership of the Party to a close.

We can't trust the realignment of portfolios as a guide to the party's priorities, as the last 'priority' portfolio has been subsumed into Andy Kerr's post.

And there are few new faces (though it's taken Cathy Peattie and Cathie Craigie ten years to get this far), but that would be hard when the full team consists of more than half of the entire SPLP. That problem is further exacerbated when you look at how other figures are ruled out: there are 25 posts in total - 28 if you count the whips and 29 if you count Tom McCabe as the Labour representative on the SPCB - and a total of 46 Labour MSPs.

Wendy Alexander is apparently still frozen out, as is Jack McConnell. That reduces the pool to 44. Trish Godman as Deputy Presiding Officer is also ruled out. That's 43. Rhona Brankin has just stood down citing family reasons, so that's 42. Hugh Henry and Irene Oldfather are Conveners of key Committees - Public Audit and the European and External Relations Committees respectively, though that doesn't preclude Public Petitions Committee Convener Frank McAveety from being a frontbencher - so that's 40. Malcolm Chisholm has been pretty much blackballed since speaking out in favour of Kenny MacAskill over Lockerbie so that's 39. Margaret Curran wants to go to the House of Commons while George Foulkes is already in the House of Lords so that's 37. Duncan McNeil is Convener of the SPLP so a frontbench portfolio is probably out of the question, even though a Committee Convenership isn't. That's 36. Ill health precludes the possibility of Peter Peacock returning to the front bench, and that's probably true of Elaine Smith as well. That leaves just 34. So I can only imagine that Bill Butler, Helen Eadie, Patricia Ferguson, Marlyn Glen and Marilyn Livingstone are somewhat put out. And even then, at least Patricia Ferguson used to be a Minister and Marilyn Livingsone was the first SPLP Convener. That leaves just three figures - Butler, Eadie and Glen - out in the void.

That's the only thing we can tell: efficiency is supposed to be Labour's big thing but their team is far too large, covering more than half of the Parliamentary group and only a small handful of members with neither a position nor an obvious reason not to have one. It's also ridiculously sized when you realise that the smaller parties cope well enough with their 16 members apiece and the SNP produced a credible alternative government-in-waiting (we know this because it is no longer waiting) with just over half the number of MSPs available to Labour.

It's also particularly barking mad when you realise that the SNP have just one MSP more than Labour, have the 13 Parliamentary Liaison Officer posts to fill in addition to 16 Ministers, three Whips, a DPO, a number of Committee Conveners and a member of the SPCB, have three former Ministers on their benches but have seven MSPs - two more than Labour - on what could be called the waiting list.

The oversized Labour frontbench means that even if Iain Gray wanted to bring in new talent, there isn't any available to him as the people he does have are already in position. Perversely, therefore, he has to cut the number of posts and await the election. And of course, the fact that not all of these people will get something should he get to name a Government means that while he might be trying (and able) to please everyone now, sooner or later, he's going to have to piss someone off and he's leaving it too late. He's just deferring slightly awkward personnel decisions - which begs the question of how he'll handle the more important matters. Perhaps he should keep using the subjunctive to describe how he'd behave if he were FM.


Wardog said...

It would appear that both Tavish & Gray are coming under increasing pressure from within.

One has put forward ludicrous policies only to be shot down over an inexplicable adverseness to being wellll a 'democrat'..... whilst it's became clear that Scottish labour are in a policy vacuum and despite big news story's of renewed policy creation, they have nothing and we're less than two years from a holyrood election. Oh what fun and u-turns are we about to see?

Labour being sent into the wilderness at Westminster might just be the best thing ever to happen to Scottish Labour yet.

Bucket of Tongues said...

"Wendy Alexander is apparently still frozen out" - any idea why this is?

Braveheart said...

" ....a somewhat harsh assessment of a Cabinet Secretary who finally got around to abolishing tuition fees..."

When did that happen Mr McNumpty?

Will said...

Well, Wardog, Labour at Holyrood having to stand on its own two feet could be the best thing to happen to it as it has to present a clear, decisive alternative... or perhaps the worst as it won't have the strength of the UK party to rely on. I haven't quite made up my mind which one yet!

BoT - I'm afraid not: only this week, Iain Gray was singing her praises.

Braveheart - around the time this happened.

Braveheart said...

Ah right. You mean the Graduate Endowment was abolished, not student fees, as you claimed. Good apology.

As I understand it the promise was to "abolish Student Debt", cost = £3billion, so the scrapping of the Graduate Endowment, cost £25 = million, is a sop. Hardly even a fig-leaf.

How many schools has Fiona Hyslop commissioned, "brick for brick"?

(clue: it's much closer to zero than 200)

And how many have actually been built using Holyrood funding? (clue: it's as close to zero as you can get. In fact it is zero).

So it's no wonder people say she is the worst Education Minister ever... they're judging by results.

Anyway, she can claim with some justification that it's not really her fault. John Swinney told her he had something called a "Scottish Futures Trust" which would swing into operation in a couple of months and fund a school building programme. But he didn't have any such thing, so poor old Fiona is swinging in the wind, pretendng that we're building hundreds of schools when she, and everyone else, knows it's sheer fiction.

Will said...

Braveheart, I said she abolished tuition fees. The GE was paid by people in exchange for having received tuition for four years and was a step forward in that it wasn't paid in advance of classes, but was still a fee for tuition received. It's gone, ergo tuition fees are gone for students domiciled in Scotland.

Of course, there's now increased student support being announced, and unless you are accusing Fiona Hyslop of misleading Parliament, 236 schools have already been built, rebuilt or refurbished since 2007, compared with 205 in the full 2003-07 period. So either you're lying here or Fiona Hyslop has committed a resignation-level error. No offence, but I think I'll take Fiona's word for it. Meanwhile, Labour in administration in Glasgow are closing schools, not opening them.

On debt, I'll be direct - I want it to be abolished yesterday, but if we want to talk about education promises, here's one for you:

"We will not introduce 'top-up' fees and have legislated to prevent them."

Remember what happened next?

Bucket of Tongues said...

Will - yeah, it's strange. She always struck me as a top-level politician. Strange how she's been left on the backbences - not like Labour are stuffed with exceptional talent.