Monday, September 24, 2007

Gulliver's Cabinet

One of the most striking things about Brown's first 100 days as Prime Minister has been the staggering degree of party unity he has achieved. Not a voice has been raised in question, let alone in opposition. Looking back to the Blair Government, the first question asked whenever a new policy was put forward was, what is the Treasury's opinion of this? The presence of Brown in the Treasury was enough to maintain a permanent appearance of an alternative regime.
That Blair was Presidential in style is beyond question. The 'eye-catching initiatives with which I should be personally associated' were an ever-present. Decisions made on sofas, kitchen-table cabinets and the like: Blair was never a believer in cabinet-government. Unity thinks (in the comments here) that Brown will herald a return to true Cabinet Government, as under John Major, as opposed to the informal rule of Tony Blair. I'm not convinced, and I'm not convinced because looking at the Brown cabinet is like looking at the England cricket team sent to South Africa in 1999. There are plenty of potential rising stars in people like Ed Balls and the Milibands, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, but there are no 'big beasts' except for Jack Straw - surely the meekest of big beasts.
In John Major's cabinet there were Heseltine and Clarke, Howard and Rifkind, Hurd and um, Portillo. In Thatcher's cabinet there were Howe, Lawson, Major, Patten, Heseltine and Whitelaw. Even in Blair's non-cabinet cabinet there were Reid, Blunkett, Clarke, Cook and Mandelson. All of them substantial figures. Now look at Brown's cabinet. Alastair Darling, Jackie Smith, David Miliband, Ed Balls, Alan Johnson, Tessa Jowell, Harriet Harman, Hilary Benn. Some of these are, or will be, very successful politicians I'm sure, but at present they are either lightweight or drastically inexperienced. Brown's vision of cabinet Government is one where he always gets his way.
This is, in one sense, good news for the Labour Party. Since there is no-one that could possibly pose a threat to Brown, the briefing and knifing has dropped off dramatically - imagine what Blair couold have done with this sort of loyalty. However, Government is too big a job to be personally managed by the Prime Minister. Delegation is the key to a successful Premiership, and if you try to do it all, you'll end up burnt out and error-prone.
Brown's record so far (and, hey, early days) has delighted Labour supporters because it looks so professional. The fact that it has been calculated for party political advantage has ben ignored or forgiven. But Government is not all about positioning - it is, ultimately, more important to deal correctly with an outbreak of foot and mouth than it is to present to the press how diligently you are working on it. Brown announced with great fanfare that he was taking charge in the early days of the outbreak - is he still? It's hardly an original observation, but the man who has run all along as the end of spin, has done almost nothing as Prime Minister but massage his public image. Appearing as Gulliver in his Lilliputian cabinet certainly adds to his current political stature, but is it a sound long term strategy?
But then, I'm beginning to feel like I did in 1997 again - is it really only me that sees through the 'new Brown' facade? Has the rest of the country obediently rolled over onto its back to have its collective tummy tickled again? There's only so long you can go on shouting that the Emperor has no clothes before getting the sneaking suspicion that it's your eyesight that's defective after all.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd say it's a case of no one caring whether the emperor's wearing any clothes until winter. When everything is going broadly well economically, and the ruling party is following a short-term centrist strategy, why worry about politics?

6:28 pm  

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