If this minor reshuffle is so controversial, there can be only one conclusion

Share
Related Topics

Tony Blair's latest attempt to reshuffle his government is becoming as chaotic and muddled as the previous two: the reshuffle that never happened in the summer and the one the year before, when his convoluted changes had not been properly thought through. The current situation is especially damaging, as it is more obvious than usual what Mr Blair should do.

Tony Blair's latest attempt to reshuffle his government is becoming as chaotic and muddled as the previous two: the reshuffle that never happened in the summer and the one the year before, when his convoluted changes had not been properly thought through. The current situation is especially damaging, as it is more obvious than usual what Mr Blair should do.

The Cabinet lacks charismatic personalities. Few ministers have the self-confidence to show a robust interest in the development of policy. The former Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, is one of those rare politicians who performs well in the media and has been a policy innovator, daring to think radically. The fact that he failed to act in a bold manner when he was in the Cabinet was not his fault. He got caught in the endless power struggle between the Prime Minister and his Chancellor. Since resigning from the Cabinet, Mr Milburn has delivered several thoughtful speeches about the development of policy.

The current Labour chairman, Ian McCartney, has performed an important function engaging with increasingly disaffected trade union leaders and party activists. Not surprisingly, several union leaders want Mr McCartney to keep his job. He has been a mediator during a rough period that included the aftermath of Mr Blair's calamitous decision to support the war against Iraq. Even so, in a pre-election period a governing party needs to turn outwards and communicate effectively with the wider electorate. Mr McCartney is a poor communicator. Nor is the Labour Party machine performing as effectively as it once did. For all its problems, there have been times in recent months when the Conservative Party appeared to be functioning with greater professionalism. Mr Blair should therefore make the obvious pre-election change and replace Mr McCartney with Mr Milburn, regardless of any rumblings of discontent from his neighbour in Downing Street.

In making such a provocative move, Mr Blair should not make matters more explosive by placing one of his closest allies in the Department for Work and Pensions, a vacancy made available by the resignation of Andrew Smith, a close ally of Gordon Brown. The Chancellor is wary, with good cause, about vague statements from Blairites about the need for the Government to be more radical on welfare. There is no indication of deep policy thinking to accompany these woolly briefings to trusted commentators.

These modest moves should not be impossible. They should not even be especially controversial. The fact that they would be explosive leads to a single conclusion. For a variety of reasons, this is a government that has complacently lost its way. There are no great ideological divisions to compare with those that virtually destroyed the Labour Party in the 1970s and early 1980s. Members of the Cabinet, and those who might be brought back, are largely pragmatic figures. Mr Milburn is not a right-wing Thatcherite. Mr Brown is not an Old Labour conservative. It should not be impossible for them to work together in the Cabinet, whatever their differences in the past.

Mr Blair has returned from his holiday in messianic mood, usually an ominous sign heralding clumsy policy announcements. Mr Brown seems determined to fight his corner rather than keep his head down for the sake of Cabinet unity. The Conservatives, who have had a terrible summer, must be pinching themselves; for them, this is an unexpected bonus to the pre-conference season. The Liberal Democrats, sensing victory in the forthcoming Hartlepool by-election, are also making the most of the ministerial feuding as their stock rises in the opinion polls.

At his press conference yesterday, Mr Blair claimed that ministerial changes were based on merit rather than any other considerations. He had the grace to smile at the end of this declaration. As he struggles to find a way through his latest reshuffle, it seems that merit is almost the last factor on his mind.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in August  

Ferguson: The sad truth is that Michael Brown was killed because he was a black man

Bonnie Greer
A protestor poses for a  

Ferguson verdict: This isn't a 'tragedy'. This is part of a long-running genocide of black men in America

Otamere Guobadia
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital