Saturday, 4 October 2008

Gordon Brown's reshuffle

Most of the media have been preoccupied with the return to Cabinet of Peter Mandelson in Gordon Brown's reshuffle. Bearing in mind that Mandy is a hate figure to many it's hardly surprising that his rehabilitation is the big story. This has meant that some of the other movements in, out and around government aren't getting all the attention they deserve. Here in no particular order are some of my thoughts about the changes (excluding Mandelson):
  • The break up of Defra leaving a smaller department to concentrate on food and farming is very welcome. Defra was too big and unwieldy for one person to head up even when Labour's main geek David Miliband was in charge. And it was a fact that when Margaret Beckett was the Defra person she was so preoccupied with climate change that farming was pretty well off her radar. She also treated farmers with contempt and when it came to the party conferences they were lucky to get a mention. More about Beckett later.
  • A new department combining energy and climate change headed up by Ed Miliband. Again a sound move with these two subjects being a good fit. But will we see any abandonment of wind farms with the frequent changes of wind speeds and hence power output and instead the development of tide and wave energy? Don't hold your breath on this one.
  • The separation of Defence and the Scottish Office. The earlier combination of these two under one minister displayed an appalling lack of judgment by Gordon Brown. OK with devolution the Scottish Office job might not have been a big one but the perception that Defence (we are currently still involved in two wars remember apart from maintaining a garrison in The Falklands) only demanded a part time minister demonstrated just how bad Brown is as PM. His namesake (Des) Browne was poor at the time of the Iranian Hostages affair - he admitted that the buck stayed with him but Blair didn't sack him and he continued in post in Brown's first cabinet. We are told that Des didn't want any other job in the reshuffle; like Ruth Kelly he is a committed Roman Catholic and when the Fertilisation and Embryology Bill comes back they will be clear to vote via their consciences. Solid performer John Hutton moves to Defence, a big improvement then in this key position.
  • Geoff Hoon has moved to Transport, Ruth Kelly's old job. This former barrister has been one of those amazing survivors of the Blair and Brown eras: his temporary amnesia at the time of the Hutton Enquiry when his most frequent reply to his Lordship was "I don't remember that" doesn't seem to have hindered his continuance at the top table! I heard the other day that Hoon's father and grandfather had railway jobs and it will be fascinating to see if he displays any leaning towards our train services as against other forms of transport.
  • Caravan fanatic Margaret Beckett is back. Not good. She takes over Housing from Caroline Flint. Beckett to my mind has typified the worst of New Labour although she had her roots in Old Labour of course. Here is a woman who has managed to cost this country literally millions of pounds in fines to the EU with the ridiculously complicated model of the Rural Payments Agency set up in England for which she bears responsibility. Her punishment? She was promoted to Foreign Secretary, what an insult to farmers. Regarded as a good stonewaller she will no doubt be the one to once again be wheeled out to speak to the media when something nasty happens. Make sure your alarm is working Margaret: the Today programme on Radio 4 starts early. Gordon of course prefers Andrew Marr to interview him on Marr's Sunday show - it's generally recognised that Andy only bowls gentle full tosses when the Prime Minister is in the Studio.
I don't know if the ministerial futures of the always impressive Dorset MP Jim Knight or the far less able Ben Bradshaw from Exeter have been sorted yet but no doubt we will know shortly.

One person who will be especially pleased about the return of Peter Mandelson will be satirist and impersonator Rory Bremner. Rory seems to take particular pleasure taking the mickey out of Mandelson and now he's back from Brussels we can expect to see and hear more of Mandy again when the Bremner show resumes.

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