31 May 2010

New appointments

Congratulations to Michael Moore, the new Secretary of State for Scotland. In many ways, he's probably more suited to the job than his predecessor Danny Alexander, who goes down in history as the shortest-serving Secretary of State, having been moved to replace David Laws at the Treasury. Moore comes with the kudos of being Deputy Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, so has an outside chance of at least appearing like Scotland's man in the Cabinet. Of course, Alistair Carmichael, as the LibDems' Shadow Scotland Secretary before the election, was a logical choice as well, but has clout as the Coalition Deputy Chief Whip and, accordingly, Senior LibDem Whip. Besides, who would want to pass up such a cool title as 'Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household'?

Anyway, Alexander was noted for being a close aide to his Leader Nick Clegg, and was effectively rendered mute during David Cameron's visit to Scotland. He was never going to look like anything other than the Cabinet's man in Scotland. And with his "I don't have anything to add" line during the PM's public appearances, I can't see him enjoying his role as George Osborne's Number 2. Where Laws took on the role with relish, I can't see Alexander bringing the same zeal to a tough role. Particularly when George Osborne described his predecessor as "put on earth to do the job". Alexander strikes me as more of a back-room man. He'll probably form a good working relationship with the Chancellor, but it'll be clear that Osborne is top dog, as opposed to Osborne and Laws effectively being joint Chancellors (and, it seems, with Laws being the stronger and more confident performer). With the spotlight now back on Osborne, there's now major pressure on the Government. Osborne does not do well in the spotlight.

But the real pressure, I suspect, is on Tavish Scott. We know that the Government has to make unpopular decisions. We know that spending cuts are going to have to come, and that the only questions are what gets cut, and when. Fine. But that doesn't mean we have to like it.

The LibDems' federal structure and the intricacies of devolution are such that the Scottish LibDems could have sidestepped the bulk of the criticism. Indeed, they were adept at that in the old Lab-LD Executive, with Dunfermline & West Fife By-Election winner Willie Rennie successfully campaigning on, among other things, the Forth Road Bridge tolls, the local hospital, and job losses at Kyocera. But tolls, the health service and enterprise were and are all devolved. Moreover, of those three subjects, the NHS was the only one which didn't have a LibDem in charge of it! But they got away with this - Rennie was seeking to be an MP, and an opposition one at that. He could afford to criticise the then Executive: he wouldn't be a part of it, he wouldn't have to back it.

Had David Laws been in a position to remain in situ, or had Vince Cable or Chris Huhne been moved to the Treasury, the Scottish LibDems, as a broadly autonomous section of the party, could have kept their distance from the nastiest of the budget cuts when they came. And Tavish Scott could have focused on devloved issues, and how Holyrood spent the money it had.

But there's a problem now. It is a Scottish Liberal Democrat making the cuts now. And Tavish Scott's Deputy Leader is now in the Cabinet, bound by collective responsibility for the decisions it takes. Alex Salmond will have a field day with this. Patrick Harvie can make his appeal to disaffected LibDems. Even Iain Gray can - in theory, at least - capitalise on this.

A Scottish LibDem will be responsible for cutting the Scottish Budget, and will have the agreement of Tavish Scott's Deputy Leader, Michael Moore. Devolution or no devolution, federal structure or no federal structure, it will be harder for the LibDems to get away from the tough decisions now, and far easier for their critics to make their mark. This set of appointments is what will cost the LibDems dear in next year's Holyrood elections.


Sophia Pangloss said...

Could they no jist have shuffled their chairs on Saturday, an' Mr Laws could hae become Camptroller o' her Majesty's Government?

Ah'm sorry fer that, ah couldnae help masel'.

Caron said...

I just wondered what it's going to feel like when we end up with 2 years' spending cuts at once. There's an argument that the SNP are being completely irresponsible by refusing to find a way to save some money this year.

People aren't stupid. They know what needs to happen to sort the economy out. If it were up to me, I'd be more inclined to put up taxes, cos I'm a tax and spend kind of girl, but I recognise I'm in a minority.

I think the cuts that are going to come anyway will be much more protective of the vulnerable than they would have been if the Tories were governing alone.

Remember Darling said that we'd need worse cuts than Margaret Thatcher and Brown tried to play that one down for the last 18 months of his term. No doubt we'll get a Labour tsunami of bile over the next few years, but they'd have been in the same position.

Danny at the Treasury will be good - he's very close to Nick, he's impressed the Tories and he and Oliver Letwin put together the Coalition Agreement. Danny understands the issues across the range of Government cos he put together our manifesto.

Cuts are inevitable - we'll be judged on the manner in which we bring them in.

Jeanne Tomlin said...

You're right, Caron. People are not stupid.

People are NOT so stupid as to miss what hypocrites Labour is being screaming and yelling in Holyrood for immediate spending cuts (which they campaigned against in the GE) and at the same time constantly screaming and yelling for increased spending on various pet programmes. (GARL anyone?)

Really--you're right. Someone does think people are stupid.

Ted Harvey said...

I've watched Danny Alexander several times on the box since his move to being Boy George's boy. It fascinates me that his body language is crying out HELP! (that’s Danny’s, not George’s, body language)

I got force-fed on the body language thing on a management training course a few years back. It was one of those things that I started with alternatively loathing and laughing at... but then I found it actually works quite well as a device for 'reading' people's real feelings.

Hence my fascination with what this episode is going to turn out like.

Ted Harvey said...

Interesting piece by ‘Bagehot’ in the Economist this week where it is suggested that the Danny Alexander situation mirrors much about the coalition and state of the UK. He concludes – “Danny Alexander—c’est moi!” Extracts:

Loyal, ideologically sound and personable, Mr Alexander’s promotion will suit Mr Clegg and some Tories. But others are less convinced… “Another God-damned public-relations man” was the verdict of Lord Tebbit, a Thatcherite head banger.
It is easy to sneer at Mr Alexander’s service at Cairngorms National Parks; but he has actually had more extra-political experience than his boss, Mr Osborne, who, at 39, is only a year older.
The trouble is that these are not usual times. Mr Osborne will present an emergency budget on June 22nd, then a departmental spending review this autumn. These will inflict the most painful spending cuts in a generation…
(and finally)
… Those who say that Mr Alexander is peculiarly callow or ill-prepared are engaged in a kind of scapegoating displacement activity. No one is really ready. We are all Danny Alexander now.

(That last bit will be a dig at folks like me then).

Donald of the Ailses said...

Fae whit a understand Michael Moore is a good and well liked MP in his former constituency Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale