Saturday, November 17, 2007


Is the Problem Balls not Brown?

Yesterday I chaired a conference for A level students addressed, in an excellent lecture, by Professor Mick Moran(Manchester) on the 'PM and the Core Executive'. The Core Executive is a new explanatory concept used by political scientists to describe the pool of people-Cabinet ministers, senior civil servants, Number 10 aides and so forth- who make the key decisions. They may drop in and out of key decision-making but have this as one of their roles; maybe this group represents up to a thousand in all.

I think the concept is useful as it removes the distinction made between 'policy' and 'administration', or the notion that civil servants merely carry out ministerial wishes; in reality they contribute to decisions as much as ministers do. However, it fails to embrace fully, I think, the fact that prime ministers always have a coterie of personal advisers, who often help him reach his most important conclusions. Blair had Anji Hunter, Sally Morgan, Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell- the 'quartet' as Anthony Seldon calls them. Brown has Ed Balls, Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander, picked out from the bevy of cronies he acquired at the Treasury as detailed in Tom Bower's biography of Brown.

Martin Kettle in The Guardian today writes of the 'present dismayed state of the Labour government' in the wake of the 'election that wasn't', focusing on the fatalism amongst Labour MPs that 'we've had our innings'; their feeling that no-one quite knows where the government is headed; the fact that Brown's mood, exacerbated by early mornings and late nights makes his temper heated and unpredictable; and the poor morale of Brown's inner cabal who may have pesuaded Brown to call off the election but 'in their heads ... are still positioning not governing'. Kettle reports a widespread consensus that Brown should 'widen the circle soon':

Good people feel excluded. The animus against Balls in particular is very great. He should concentrate on being a better minister, they say.

Bower's evidence suggested Balls was easily up to Mandelsonian standards of manipulation, briefing and dissembling. Personally, I have not been impressed by his communication skills which I think are little better than Ruth Kelly's who was abysmal at selling policy ideas. And those eyes of his.. don't you think they look... just a little.... scarily manic?

I too read Martin Kettle's piece and I was in the Hiuse last week watching Balls debate with Michael Gove about the raising of the education leaving age. All in all I am beginning to think that Martin Kettle has a point!
It will be interesting to see if Balls can exploit effectively Cameron's suggestion of reading tests at 6 which most educationalists have condemned as too early.
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