Thursday, May 25, 2006
Opportunity Knocks for John Reid
It might appear that John Reid has been handed a poisoned chalice in the form of the Home Office and few would deny it's currently the most dysfunctional department in a not very impressive line-up of New Labour ministries. But for the ambitious politician this is a possible time of golden opportunity. It was exceeding the set target for housebuidling which launched housing minister Harold Macmillan into the stratosphere in the early fifties; it was securing Retail Price Maintenance and leading negotiations for entry into Europe which did the same for Edward Heath. With maybe 18 months before Blair bows out there is time for someone to achieve something big, to put his or her name up there with Gordon's stewardship of the economy as a potential alternative to the moody Chancellor as Blair's successor.
Looking at the others there does not seem to be much scope for high achievement. Straw can hardly reform parliament in any way which would haul up his name in lights; Margaret Beckett-already a bit past it at 63-can hardly exert any epoch changing influence as Foreign Secretary; and Peter Hain is stuck in the backwater of Ulster. David Miliband is often touted as the shape of Labour things to come but at Defra he has not a lot of scope to show his paces. John Hutton has just presided over a rare success, a coherent plan for the intractable problem of pensions but, while able, he lacks any observable charisma or leadership qualities. Alan Johnson at education might just manage to turn around a parlous situation and in my view might be a credible runner against Brown. But I think the man who has the most to gain from suceeding in his job is John Reid.
He is widely seen as Labour's 'hardman' or even 'political hoodie' in today's Guardian. There is a problem however: how can success in his new post be measured? His nine jobs in eight years have flattered him, in a way, in that he has never stayed long enough to have been seen to have cocked up. The problem with the Home Ofice is that success normally amounts to avoiding failure-not much of a headline grabbing formula. My suspicion is that a spot of internal administrative reorganisation plus stalwart failure avoidance might just become something which Reid, over the next few months will seek to spin as success. Alternatively, of course, the curse of the Home Office might strike again and he might end up alongside his two predecessors, languishing on the back benches. Such is politics but I'd venture a small punt at least, that he'll be sufficiently successful at avoiding failure to give Gordon some competition when the time comes.
However, he would face a terrible time against a youthful Cameron!
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