Friday, November 20, 2009
Lady Ashton and the 'Talent Pool'
Already sections of the press are rubbishing Kathy Ashton because she is an unelected politician. As Neil Kinnock has just argued on Today, I'm not sure this is anything to worry about. US Cabinets have been unelected ever sinced 1787 and, whilst there have been arguments over many of them, some have proved to be very effective. Thed key thing is that they are appointed by people who are elected, as indeed was Lady Ashton. I honestly feel our 'talent pool' of members of the legislature is too restricted.
I once interviewed Tristan Garel-Jones, the former Tory Deputy Chief Whip who left me in no doubt that such resources are always distinctly finite. These figures are approximations but it is usually assumed that a third of a governing parliamentary party are not available by virtue of their total unsuitability: excessive drinking, incapable of running anything, let alone a ministry, too old and enfeebled, too young and inexperienced; too ideologically extreme; or too much of a risk to any government because of bizarre attitudes or personal habits. There could be other reasons. Depending on the size of its majority a government might therefore have around 200 MPs who can realistically be put in charge of Whitehall departments and fill the around 100 posts any prime minister has at his or her disposal. This is a much smaller group than one might have originally thought, to be sure.
Given that ministers need time to prove themselves in the job and display signs they are suitable to go on to higher things at cabinet level, even this number has to be qualified. In addition a prime minister has to be mindful of other considerations, representing: Welsh and Scottish interests, especially in their respective ministries; a fair number of women, given their under-representation generally in parliament; a few racial minority MPs; maybe one or two gay MPs; as well as the major ideological or ‘tribal’ interests in the parliamentary party.
Put like this, Sir John Hoskyns’ jibe that ‘governments are formed from a talent pool that could not sustain a single multi-national company’ seems less a spiteful swipe than a bleakly accurate analysis.
Despite New Labour’s huge majority of 179 and 419 seats, Blair did not find it easy to discover much talent within their number. Astute columnists often attested to this fact. Peter Riddell, 19th June 2003 commented on the recent reshuffle, that it revealed ‘the sheer mediocrity of much of the Government… which has ‘few potential stars. On a generous estimate there are at most ten possible Cabinet ministers among middle ranking and junior ministers, mostly competent managerial types like Beverley Hughes, Hazel Blears and Nick Raynsford.’
Andrew Rawnsley, whose Servants of the People, chronicled Labour’s early years, recalls a conversation with a senior official from Number 10 about
‘….the shallowness of the junior ministerial gene pool and how few really good people there were available to the Prime Minister for promotion to the top table.’(Observer, 4/4/04).
We should abandon the narrow notion that all ministers should be drawn from the legislature and look further afield for ministerial talent. The case of Kathy Ashton supports this analysis in my view.
All we should do then is elected a leader and allow them to elect whom they like, Digby Jones for example what a moron for Blair, how about Thatcher. god help us all
Beverley Hughes is a competent managerial type?! Haha. She didn't even know what was going on in her own department. She wouldn't last five minutes in business.
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