Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Gordon Brown's cabinet

Just wanted to make one or two comments about Gordon Brown's first cabinet. Whilst waiting to see to see who was going to get what job my greatest concern was whether David Miliband would still be at DEFRA and if not who would be slotted into his old job. It didn't take long before it was announced that Miliband would be Foreign Secretary (once again taking over a job from Margaret Beckett and can only be better). So who would be the man (or woman) at the helm at DEFRA? It turned out to be Hilary Benn, son of the left wing conscience of the Labour Party Tony Benn.

Now Hilary Benn represents that great rural constituency of, ahem, Central Leeds. He is also a vegetarian of long standing. So should these points be held against him? Certainly not! He may have little or no connection with the countryside but I guess that applies to most of the Labour heavyweights. The thing is that Benn has immediately jumped into the lion's den by attending the Royal Show at Stoneleigh and appears to have made a favourable impression; certainly hearing him on 'Farming Today' on Radio 4 earlier I was pleased to note that he is prepared to listen and learn and very importantly engage with farmers.

Although I'm a carnivore I have total respect for vegetarians. Benn was asked about his own vegetarianism and replied "Judge me by what I do - not by what I eat. If we work on the basis of mutual respect, we shall get on fine". Heartening words because rearing of livestock is the backbone of farming in Devon and Cornwall: our farmers have great expertise in this area and of course the south west is brilliantly adapted for growing grass, as good as anywhere I guess.

Another point in Hilary Benn's favour is that he was the Overseas Development Minister and has seen at first hand some of the farming systems and environmental problems in the third world. He also comes over as one of the more decent men from New Labour. Let's hope his tenure is not interrupted by an early election. Personally I think Gordon Brown won't be tempted to go to the country this year - firstly it would be a big gamble, he hasn't waited 10 years for this prize only to risk throwing it away after such a short incumbency. Secondly, the longer he waits the greater chance there is of bringing more troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Thirdly if charges are brought in the 'Cash for Honours' affair then people will constantly be reminded of labour sleaze, better to get that sorted and hope it becomes history. Lastly the labour party is to all intents and purposes bankrupt and would have real problems financing a general election right now. From Gordon's point of view it makes sense to try and regain trust in the party and rebuild his membership base. But you never know with politicians!

Interestingly Brown has deputed various ministers to be the voices speaking up for the different regions of the country. Thus we have Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw, who has moved from DEFRA to the Health Ministry, as the spokesman for the southwest. How this will work in practise I don't know, we shall just have to wait and see.

I shall finish with Gordon Brown's worst appointment. He has unbelievably retained Des Browne as Defence Secretary. It was Browne who admitted the buck stopped with him over the debacle of the navy personnel captured by the Iranians but who didn't resign (so buck stopping is all empty rhetoric) and who had the words "I'm sorry" almost forcibly dragged from his lips by the Tories. Now he also has the responsibility of looking after Scotland's interest. There could well be a problem here because a decision has to be made over the future of the Navy's shipyards - watch out for any bias toward Scotland.

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