Friday, May 05, 2006


Election Results and the Reshuffle

Blair is certainly putting up a fight for his political life.
First the local election results. Well, they were between 'bad' and 'very bad' but did not qualify as the 'disaster', I for one had feared. Losing 250 seats and 18 councils was seriously wounding for Labour but at 26% of the poll, their vote was no lower than their 2004 performance. The Tories did very well in London and overall won about as much as Labour lost. 40% of the vote shows Cameron can win votes but still the northern cities like Newcastle, Liverpool(where they came 4th to the Greens)and Manchester remained unbreached fortresses. Ming Campbell for the Lib Dems must have been disappointed with only 27% of the poll and minimal gains[later note: recalculations put the figure below Labour at 25%]. Nick Robinson summed it up as a 'bloody nose for Blair, but nowhere near a knock-out blow'. The BNP surge is a worry but let's hope it will be only temporary, like its brief periods in the sun during the seventies and mid nineties. I was pleased to see the Greens progressing on their long march into what may soon become the political manistream.

Next, the reshuffle, or as much as I know at the time of writing. This really is surprising and involves the moving of most of the major portfolios except for the Chancellorship. Clarke is sacked, and is not especially pleased- this move surprised me as Blair had offered such solid support last week and emphasised that the man to solve the problems was the man in post. This volte face arguably makes him look a bit foolish. Prezza loses his department but retains his elected office of Deputy Leader and Deputy Prime Minister. I assume it's not possible to detach the former role from him, won, after all, in open competition via the three wings of the party, but the second must be in the PM's gift and Blair will come to regret the fact that this walking embarrassment is still barging around Westminister. Kelly goes to take over the wreckage from Prezza's political demise. Straw steps down to become Leader of the House; maybe punishment for spreading the rumour that he sees himself as Deputy Leader under a Brown premiership.

John Reid, that all-purpose, utility minister takes over at the Home Office which he will no doubt lead with that mixture of competence, agression and cunning he brings to all his many Cabinet jobs of which this is the ninth. Margaret Beckett as Foreign Secretary can be seen as reward for long-serving and loyal competence at DEFRA. Patricia Hewitt stays, again surprisingly, together with Hilary Benn, many peoples' tip for eventual higher things.

So what does it all mean? Blair has refashioned his Cabinet in the biggest ever reshuffle of his nine years. It is wholly in his own image and seems not to have involved consultation with his Chancellor; I don't see any Brownite disciples moved up or in but maybe there will be places allocated at the junior levels. One can only conclude from all this that Blair is rejecting any suggestions he should go early and is utilising the formidable powers of an incumbent PM to buttress his position. Will it work? Probably not. Macmillan's 'Night of the Long Knives' was an expression of his weakness rather than strength and merely presaged his standing down as PM a year later. This reshuffle rather does remind one of that hoary old metaphor about the Titanic and the deckchairs. He might have bought a little time but that iceberg cannot be so far away.

Edna doesn't think you should be so surprised at Clarke's exit today, dear. His position was simply untenable.
Smartest move for New Labour would've been an immediate "honourable" resignation last week. Blair could've reinstated the annoying bunny after a few months' exile. But now...
Anyway, Edna foresees a similar political demise for Blair sometime in the next year or so...
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