Saturday, October 04, 2008


'Economic War Cabinet' Appropriate for the Times?

For nostalgic and history loving reasons I like using pictures from the time of Churchill and Attlee. The picture on the left of the 1941 War Cabinet seemed relevant once the press started to name Gordon's new assemblage of available talent, an 'Economic War Cabinet'. Having had a day to ponder the dramatic reshuffle, I have a few small things to say about it.

1. The 'War Cabinet' description might be useful in flagging up the importance of the crisis we are in, but it might prove a little too alarmist for some.

2. The assembly of a 19 person 'National Economic Council' supports this 'war emergency' theme headed by Paul Myners, Head of the Guardian Media Group and a former head of M and S. Brown argues that:

he was seeking "to reconstruct the way we govern to meet the new challenges coming from financial instability, oil price rises, food shortages and by making the right investments in science and technology. We need to have a sharper focus on all these areas." He predicted that every government would reconstruct their ways of working in a similar fashion over the next few months.

3. Mandelson's appointment has had a mixed reception. Some have called it a 'masterstroke', others on the left a disaster. He is a gamble and who knows what secrets of his private life, conducted away from the tabloids for the last four years in Brussells, will be unearthed by the journalistic lowlife. But in terms of experience, expertise, contacts and strategic planning, he can have few equals. We hear the feud is a long time over and that he has been advising Brown for some months past, even commenting on his much improved conference speech. No doubt the likes of Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander will feel aggrieved as their master's ear is occupied listening to a different set of whispers. Stand by for some more interesting times as an authentic 'big beast' re-enters our national life.

4. All the appointments seem to have logic to them, especially Ed Miliband's to a new ministry of Energy and Climate Change and the elevation of Stephen Carter, from No.10 to be a minister for Communication. It was a pity John Cruddas coul;d not accept housing; exhuming Beckett to do the job smacked just a little of desperation.

5. The appointment of Nick Brown as Chief Whip will annoy many Labour MPs who find his sycophantic Brown-nosing a bit much to take and who might well look back on Geoff Hoon's tenure as a golden era.

6. While the reshuffle seems to have merit as an answer to the economic crisis, it does seem as if Brown has returned to a New Labour comfort zone with the reappearance of Mandy and Becket. Polly Toynbee wonders if this '1997 Tribute Band' can be in tune with the problems of today.

The polls show Labour closing the gap from 20 points to 12 in today's Guardian with 55% judging Brown to have handled the crisis 'well'. Gordon is enjoying a deserved mild recovery; we'll have to await Glenrothes to see how significant it is.

I have to say that, amid all the inevitable media focus on Mandy, the Beckett appointment is the one that has had me scratching my head. Why has she accepted a non-cabinet position? Does Brown really think a Min of State role is the best use of her talents? Was she only offered the housing job after Cruddas turned it down? Does she report to Blears or directly to Brown? All questions which need an answer in my view.
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