Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Heir to Blair - ish

I'm not sure that Steve Richards is right here. His basic argument is that the power of lobbyists is over-estimated because the power of ministers is also over-estimated. None of them stay in post long enough to become truly effective, and true executive power is centred in a very few individuals. By illustration, we have had seven Defence Secretaries in the past ten years (one of them on a job-share) and nine Transport Secretaries. If people aren't even in the job for more than a year at a time, how on earth are they going to be able to have any influence over policy?

This is true, as far as it goes, but what it really represents is a damning indictment of the management of Government by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. David Cameron long ago announced himself (recanting in public, though I suspect re-affirming in private) as the 'heir to Blair'. Yet it has always been the case that the Cameroons have sought to learn at least as much from Blair's weaknesses as from his strengths. Blair always regretted what he saw as his wasted first term in office, when public support was at its peak. Accordingly the Coalition have raced out of the blocks - possibly tripping over the feet as they've done so.

Equally perhaps the one thing that Blair was worst at was Cabinet management. He reshuffled his front bench frequently, and apparently at random. Things were often botched - most spectacularly when the post of Lord Chancellor was abolished for an hour or two. The wilfull failure of communications between PM and Chancellor also saw ministers sacked and then re-instated, or promised positions that never appeared. Cameron (and Osborne, whose power in the party grows by the day - a rare example of a Chancellor growing in political strength as the economic climate worsens) seem to have taken this lesson to heart. Ministers have been told to expect to occupy their positions for the entire first term at least. Reshuffles are out.

Steve Richards makes two predictions: that Phillip Hammond will not be Defence Secretary for more than a year, and Justine Greening won't be Transport Secretary 'for long'. On the contrary, I wouldn't be surprised, barring a Rumsfeldian unknown unknown, if they were both in post at the time of the next election. Cameron seems to prize the value of stability within Government to the temporary blaze of attention that comes with a reshuffle. I hope so at least - it's one of the most encouraging things about this Government.


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