Monday 23 May 2011

Cabinet reshuffle?

I don't buy a Sunday newspaper because reading Saturday's already takes up too much of my weekend. However, I understand that in several of yesterday's papers where was speculation about a cabinet reshuffle.

It has been a staple for years in the analysis of British politics that ministers are shifted too often from one department to another; that they are just getting the hang of one job when they are moved on to the next. Somewhere in his excellent memoires Chris Mullin observes that he was just getting to feel effective as Minister for Africa when he was moved, not on but out, and for no apparent reason.

Given that the Tories have not had any one in office for 13 years, and the Liberals for 70, and that the qualities that make an effective MP are not necessarily the same ones as make an effective minister, there may be a case for a reshuffle after one year to weed out any incompetents, but if there is a reshuffle I doubt if this will be the prime motivation. Bagehot wrote that the public "love a marriage more than a ministry" and last month's wedding shows that still be true, but what is equally true is that our political commentators, and I suspect politicians themselves, love discussing personalities more than policies.

A case in point is that of Chris Huhne. In spite of substantial opposition from the business lobby and some Tories, not to mention Vince Cable, he seems to have made a pretty good fist of his Green proposals. They are not perfect but even Caroline Lucas gives them two cheers. Yet Huhne seems to be in the front line for a move, not because of his competence but because of the as yet unresolved mystery of his driving points some years ago.

Just to break my own rules (of discussing policies rather than personalities)for a moment, I wonder why it is that Liberal democrats in government are turning out to be so accident prone. First there was David Laws and his expenses, then the embarrassment of Vince Cable in a honey trap, and now Huhne. Three out of our five cabinet ministers is a pretty grim score. Is it because leading Liberal Democrats are more feckless than others, or is it that the right wing press has a particular dislike for Liberals and are out to get them?

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats have simply been less personally disciplined and prepared for the rigourous scrutiny that comes with being in government? I'm not making a party political point here, but simply noting that the Conservatives for example have suffered the hits of many personal scandals in the past. Between that learning experience and their desperate need to rid themselves of their "nasty party" image and other stereotypes, they have had to be extremely exacting in terms of candidate vetting and personal behaviour and be as whiter-than-white as possible.

    By contrast, the Lib Dems have never provoked ire to my knowledge but have always been viewed with some sympathy as an underdog, and as a party able to make populist statements (such as the tuition fees position) given the unlikelihood of them forming a government until now. Given that, the fact that the media has given them consistently much less attention (which is helpful in terms of issues and scandals, if unhelpful in terms of promoting themselves) and that they haven't needed to shed any negative image, nor have they had any experience of the brutal onslaught of the media when in government... I think it's safe to say that Nick Clegg never vetted nor checked too stringently what his shadow cabinet might have been up to, and many of them probably believed they'd never be under the kind of intense glare that they are now.