Friday, June 29, 2007


Brown's Administration Full of Symbols

Appointments as well as pictures can say those 'thousand words'. Brown is sending out so many signals with his new government line-up I thought I'd try to identify the most obvious:

1. Continuity with Blair: Only Des Browne stays in post from the previous Cabinet but more than half survive with new portfolios. 'I'm capable of magnaminity' says Brown with these retentions, especially of John Hutton who is believed to be the Cabinet member who said Brown would be a 'fucking terrible prime minister'.
2 Women: Numbers reduced from 8 to 5 but of them Jacqui Smith becomes the first ever female Home Secretary and Harriet Harmon Leader of the House and Party chair. I suspect arch Blairites Blears and Jowell survived partly to keep up the numbers of women.
3. Education: to emphasize his commitment to education, we have two ministers in the Cabinet- Ed Balls(Schools) and John Denham (Universities).
4. Sooth feelings in NHS: after the haphazard stewardship of Hewitt, the emollient Alan Johnson takes over at Health.
5. Iraq: Rebel resigner Denham is welcomed into the Cabinet; anti war Miliband made Foreign Secretary and strongly anti-war Mark Malloch Brown as 'Africa, Asia and UN minister. Gordon wants to indicate his distaste for the whole wretched mess of Iraq.
6. Rewarding Loyalists: These include Darling as Chancellor of course, plus Hoon as Chief Whip and Ed Balls at Schools. Maybe Nick Brown, the loyalest of the loyal might be a bit miffed with only Deputy Chief Whip as he held the senior position back in 1997.
7. Youthful energy: Andy Burnham, the two Milibands, not forgetting Ruth kelly are decidedly young for Cabninet rank the average age of which has fallen from 54 to 49.
8. 'All Talents': this motif is reflected in the inclusion of(see pictures) Malloch Brown, Shirley Williams as an adviser and the former Tory Digby Jones. But the most spectacular appointment must be the much derided on both sides of the House, super rich Shaun Woodward at Northern Ireland(so rich he won't take a salary). This will not please office seeking Labour backbenchers but suggests British politics might conceivably be shifting away from its tribal tendencies towards a more bipartisan approach as in USA or France.

All in all a clever and well planned reshuffle, contrasting favourably with Blair's chaotic efforts. My only reservation was the exclusion of Charles Clarke, a genuine heavyweight whom Brown had hinted might be offered a job. Clearly Brown could not overcome the grudge he must have felt after Clarke's savage attack on him in the autumn of 2006. But so far Gordon has not really put a foot wrong.

A good summary Skip although I have to take issue with your closing line in point 5:

"Gordon wants to indicate his distaste for the whole wretched mess of Iraq"

I'm not the first (Jenkins, Freedland etc.) to point out Brown's culpability for the mess in Iraq, indeed to suggest that in many ways it's greater than Blairs. However wrong events have proved him, I suspect Blair genuinely believed Iraq would be a fledgeling democracy by now, slowly getting used to western-style liberal democracy. He made a mistake but did so in good faith.

Brown on the other hand was far more sceptical from the start and is probably the one UK politician who could've prevented UK soldiers going to Iraq - had he the courage to resign. The fact that he didn't means he either shared Blair's view and is therefore just as culpable or that he put career ahead of conviction - neither scenario leaving him deserving of the credit he gets from the anti-war mob.
Fair point Liam re his culpability but that won't, I feel sure inhibit Gordon from scrambling away from the issue as much as he can.
In what way do you think Charles Clarke would have strengthened this Cabinet line-up? What post would you have offered him?
Clarke is capable of doing most of the major jobs in my opinion but the reason I was concerned at the exclusion was the potential caused by having such a heavyweight as a potential rebel on the backbenches. And that's without considering John 'see you Jimmy' Reid.
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