In a blog entry on the third of July I had expressed some thoughts on the make up of Gordon Brown's first cabinet. He took the opportunity to do some welcome reshuffling of the pack but there was one particular appointment, that of Defence Secretary, that caused me concern. At the time of the capture and subsequent release by Iran of some of our service personnel Des Browne rightly took a lot of flak. In the Commons the Opposition eventually managed to extract an apology from Browne who famously said that the buck stopped with him. Now this was towards the end of the Blair premiership and it was conjectured that there was little point in booting Browne out as he could be dropped when Gordon Brown took the reins.
So what happened? Not only did Browne retain his position but he was given the job of Scottish Secretary as well! When I first wrote about this I flagged up the point that with the possible closure of one of our shipyards hanging in the air there could well be a possible conflict of interest. What has now become an issue, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is the matter of Browne doing two jobs. It was just a few days ago that former Chiefs of Defence Staff savagely attacked Gordon Brown on his attitude toward spending on defence and one of them angrily queried why the present holder of the post of Defence Secretary was also doing another job. Now with devolution I'm sure that Browne's Scotland job isn't a major part of his workload but that's not the point. Defence Secretary should be a full time post regardless. Let's remember our forces are still engaged in two major combat zones apart from the more mundane stuff like maintaining a presence in The Falklands and doing drug busts in The Caribbean.
I understand that Tory peer Lord Tebbit has asked for a breakdown as to the time spent by Browne on his two jobs. That information has not been forthcoming. This is an absolutely outrageous situation; it's no wonder that we hold politicians in such contempt.
Competence, honesty, integrity, people management: these are qualities I look for from a Prime Minister as much as policies. At the moment Gordon Brown is desperately poor in these areas.