Thursday, June 28, 2007

The New Cabinet

The announcement of the Cabinet today hardly lived up to it's government of all talents billing did it? Maybe I'm just blinkered but they look like Brownite old hands of rather dubious quality to me. Two points:

1) Jacqui Smith and David Miliband are now responsible for our security. They are the ones who are supposed to stop our enemies killing us and defend our interests abroad. If I were Osama bin Laden or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad I think there are Finnish Eurovision entries that would scare me more than our new foreign and domestic security team. I mean, listen to David Miliband:

"He pledged a "diplomacy that is patient as well as purposeful, which listens as well as leads"."

I'm not saying that when I heard Gordon Brown call for a government of all talents I was thinking "Genghis Khan would strike fear into our enemies". However, both Home and Foreign Secretaries should have at least a mild ruthless streak. It's a credibility thing.

2) The best way to progress in modern government is to secure a post in which the objectives are fuzzy and imprecise. David Miliband did well out of a DEFRA brief where if you screwed up it wouldn’t be too obvious. Mistakes like the EU Emissions Trading scheme which operates as a subsidy from our industries and hospitals to the industries of less ‘green’ nations are the kind of errors that the public don’t get worked up about. You can be high-minded and 'principled' without too much risk of the crummy state of public services becoming apparent and making a mess of your career plans.

By contrast, the Home Office is the worst department to be assigned. Underperforming schools produce students without the literacy required to complain. The victims of a lethal healthcare service are quiet as the grave. By the time the rest of us notice you can move, Johnson-like, on to another brief. In contrast, criminals who are let out of jail too early thanks to a perennial failure to build enough new prisons make their presence uncomfortably obvious with new criminal sprees.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a fine brief for a Conservative but an awful one for a Labour MP. The reason for this is simple: Conservatives tend to think that British power is a benign influence on the world so they respect those who exercise it. By contrast, Labourites usually see Western and British power as deeply malign and are, at best, suspicious of whoever is asked to be its human face.

That's why, unlike most commentators I think the person who did best out of this reshuffle was Hillary Benn. He has spent some time in International Development which is close to the perfect place for building a reputation as caring and thoughtful. Now, in the Environment brief, he can set himself up as a green messiah. In fact, if I were a betting man I would, tomorrow, go and lay a bet on Hillary Benn being the next Labour leader.

Jacqui Smith, by contrast, is evidently expendable. Another bet I might be tempted to make is that she resigns within twenty-four months. Miliband would be unlucky to do that badly, however, there are now a host of ways his prospects of becoming Prime Minister could be irreparably damaged.

No comments: