Leading Article: An untimely ministerial headache for Mr Brown


These are difficult days for the Government. The three incumbents of the great offices of state – the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Treasury – find themselves under pressure. Questions are being asked about their aptitude for the challenges each will face in their respective posts. And their performances – which have so far been unconvincing, at best – could have a major impact on the success of Gordon Brown's administration.

Before entering the Treasury, Alistair Darling, had proved himself a safe pair of hands in a succession of difficult posts. But then Northern Rock happened. Mr Darling found himself the first Chancellor of the Exchequer in 140 years to preside over a run on a British bank. He failed to sound convincing during the crisis, and it has since emerged that he was leaden-footed in attempts behind the scenes to avert it. He has learnt the hard way that managing the economy is very different from running the transport system.

The stock of the new Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has also fallen significantly in a short space of time. Mr Miliband was highly impressive as Environment Secretary. But he has looks sadly out of his depth in his new berth at the Foreign Office. He delivered a lacklustre speech at the Labour Party conference in September. Shortly afterwards, by appearing to back South Africa for a seat on the United Nations Security Council while negotiations on the subject are still at a delicate stage, Mr Miliband needlessly made himself enemies in several foreign capitals. And yesterday he argued that it was right for Britain to join in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, despite the horror that has unfolded in the country since troops went in.

The latest minister to feel the heat is Jacqui Smith. This is somewhat ironic because Ms Smith, Britain's first female Home Secretary, made the most impressive start in her new job of all her Cabinet colleagues. Her statement to the House of Commons in response to the attempted terror attack in central London in June was calm and proportionate. It signalled a welcome shift away from the hysteria of the Blair years on terrorism. But Ms Smith now stands accused of the familiar charge of "spin" regarding a cock-up over the vetting of security staff hired to work for the Home Office. In itself, the scandal is hardly of shattering magnitude. Despite the impression given in some quarters, there is no suggestion that dangerous criminals were hired for sensitive security jobs. The graver charge is that Ms Smith delayed an embarrassing announcement by several months for news-management purposes.

These simultaneous attacks on his frontbench team certainly create a headache for Gordon Brown. It seems to highlight a lack of depth of talent in the Government, which does not help a Prime Minister struggling to define his vision. But it is important he does not panic. Mr Brown should make it clear to his ministers that he expects an improved performance and then let them get on with delivering it. In broader terms, he must stick to the course embarked upon after the debacle of the early election. He needs to focus on the business of government and eschew headline-grabbing stunts. He also needs to reject clumsy attempts at news management of the type that has landed Ms Smith in hot water.

Mr Brown's political honeymoon ended with his mishandling of the speculation over an early general election. Yet the Prime Minister needs to remember that honeymoons are the exception in political life. Normal business has merely resumed. That said, Mr Brown needs far better support from his most senior colleagues if he is to win the battle for ideas in this newly sceptical political climate.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture