Our new Prime Minister started his premiership with the words “This will be a new government, with new priorities. This need for change cannot be met by the old politics…Let the work of change begin”
So which brand new figures, entirely untainted by any involved in Blair’s government of the last ten years, are tipped to take its leading roles?
Foreign Secretary - David Miliband
David Miliband spent the first four years of this Labour government as Head of Tony Blair’s Policy Unit in Number Ten. Since being elected to Parliament in 2001, he has held several ministerial jobs the previous Government, for the last two years in the Cabinet. He seems to be generally regarded as the leading figure favoured by Blair and the Blairites - so possibly not exactly the most definitive embodiment of a clean break from the Blair government.
Chancellor of the Exchequer - Alistair Darling
Alistair Darling was a member of Blair’s cabinet throughout his entire period as Prime Minister, from the day after polling day in 1997. He has held five cabinet posts in it, including at one point two at the same time. This is perhaps an example of where “change” means ministers changing back to a department they used to be part of (Darling spent the first year of Blair’s government as Chief Secretary to the Treasury).
Education Secretary - Ed Balls
Ed Balls was special adviser to Gordon Brown at the Treasury from 1997 to 1999, when he was appointed Chief Economic Advisor (a civil servant) at the Treasury. In 2005 he was elected to the House of Commons, and since last year has been Economic Secretary to the, er, Treasury. So if someone pointing out to Mr Balls another building in Whitehall than the Treasurys qualifies as “change” then I guess his appointment today fits the bill. Otherwise as changes go it’s not exactly revolutionary.
Health Secretary - Alan Johnson
Alan Johnson was a minister in Blair’s government only for nine of its ten years, since 1998 (he was only first elected to Parliament in 1997). By the standards of the other senior members of Brown’s first cabinet, this makes him virtually unassociated with Blair. It still does seem difficult however to make the argument that someone who until Blair went to the Palace was Secretary of State for a key spending and public services department, is a new figure in this “new Government”.
And of course the new guv’nor himself, as has been much pointed out (and by me here) is in fact more responsible for most of the things that he now says needs changing, than the new Steward and Bailiff of the three Hundreds of Chiltern.
Justice Secretary - Jack Straw
Difficult to keep up with the changing definitions - “change” now seems to mean the same ministers returning to substantially the same position as they held in the first period of Blair’s government.
I used to sit next to Quentin Davies at meetings of the European Movement’s Management Board, about ten years ago. He always seemed very courteous, and he was definitely a bona fide pro-European - but he is also very definitely a real Tory.
That makes him all the more valuable to Gordon Brown. Brown has been trying hard over recent months to close down the narrative which portrays Blair as the one who appealed to Middle England, and Gordon as the conscience of the Old Left within New Labour. Winning over a proper traditional old-style Tory, must surely be his ideal way to start his premiership (and clearly the timing of today’s announcement is not coincidental).
Davies will no doubt be a great start to Brown’s “Government of all the talents” - and I’ll be astonished if by the end of the week Davies is not a minister of some variety, or High Commissioner to Australia, or something.
His move is also of course yet another shove of the Cameron bandwagon off the rails. For his first year or a bit longer as Leader, it seemed that Cameron could do no wrong: all the momentum was with him. As I’ve noted before one reverse does not mean he’s lost the war, but the hole he’s finding himself in seems to be expanding.
The important thing for the Lib Dems about the shenanigans of the last few days is that it has exposed that all Liberal Democrats take the same view of Gordon Brown’s offer of ministerial jobs: no thanks, Gordon.
What was perhaps an attempt to divide us has actually emphasised how united we are, and so strengthens us.
There seem to me to be two possible interpretations of the fact that Gordon Brown has been going around offering ministerial jobs to Liberal Democrats.
The first is that it is what it says it is, that Brown wanted to make a sincere attempt to extend his government beyond simply members of his own party, in the interests of the country and of his own progressive political perspective. It seems to me that this interpretation is at least a possibility. Brown is by background a highly tribal Labour politician - but he also has a track record of dramatic unexpected annnouncements - think independence for the Bank of England (ironically a Lib Dem policy!) - and it’s quite possible to see that he might want to start his premiership doing something to make his government really different and more than just the fag-end of Blairism. And he was not, if I remember my Ashdown Diaries right, one of the senior Labour cabinet figures in the 1997-8 phase who actively opposed Blair’s closer working Project.
Apple announced a couple of months ago that they were delaying (again) the launch of the latest version of their operating system OS X, to be called Leopard, until October. (Its former slot of the exciting new Apple release for the first half of 2007 seems to have been given over to the iPhone, though that also won’t be available in Britain until at least the autumn).
Their latest preview of Leopard seems to show that they have used the delay to put some more into it - but if they were delaying until they feel they have enough new developments to justify a major new release, while that’s an improvement I think they still have a way to go yet.
These seem to be important times for David Cameron and his effort to persuade the British public that the Tory party really has changed and is now something that Middle England voters can safely vote for.
First he “lost” the argument with his party about grammar schools, and today there is news that much of his party, including his Parliamentary colleagues, do not accept his stance on many modern liberal moral issues.
A few battles going the wrong way doesn’t mean that he’s lost the war yet, but it does seem to be in the balance. He is consciously trying to do what Blair did to Labour in the 1990s - drag his party towards the centre ground and electability. And it wasn’t all as plain sailing for Blair as political culture now sometimes remembers.
But there is one crucial difference between Blair and Cameron. Blair really was not a socialist, and so he was able to persuade the British public that he wasn’t, and he wouldn’t be a socialist Prime Minister. But Cameron really is a Tory. He might accept gay marriage but no-one would really attempt to deny that he is a Conservative. Other than relatively around the edges, he is not going to change his party’s fundamental ideological approach, as Blair did.
If Cameron can’t persuade his colleagues, as Blair did, that the imperative of victory means having to swallow a lot of things they thought they never could - and be seen to win a battle with his own party - then it will severely damage his ability to stand before the electorate and claim that he leads a Conservative party that has changed.
Saturday’s meeting of the UK European Movement’s new national Council was a very heartening experience: after a very difficult couple of years, the EM has clearly picked up itself, dusted itself down, and is really starting to focus on the future.
The last meeting I attended elected Peter Luff as the EM’s new Chairman, with a strong team of others too to lead the organisation and they have obviously been working very hard since, both in sorting out some of the challenging practical issues, but also in pursuing ambitious but realistic aims. Many of these will be coming to fruition and becoming visible over the next few weeks and months.
There is already a major programme of meetings, run mostly by EM branches around the country, the Speak Up Europe project. This has taken off mainly thanks to the efforts of Margaret Daly, and is an excellent project (and part of an EU-wide programme).
Blair’s speech raised a vitally important debate - and he was more right than many of those who have attacked him.
I’ve been trying to work out what I think about Blair’s speech about the media this week. Fundamentally I think a lot of what he says is right - the relationship between politicians and the media is really quite unhelpful, and certainly doesn’t help the British public by allowing intelligent debate about public issues. Bluntly, the media’s approach promotes the image of politicians as charlatans and chancers, when in fact pretty much every single politician, of any party, went into politics because they wanted to contribute to the public debate and improve Britain. This is a travesty (and apart from anything else politics in fact offers very thin pickings for a charlatan or a chancer!).
So this is an important debate. Much of what he said needs to be said and as Steve Richards says, most politicians are for understandable reasons too scared of upsetting the media to say it.
Blair is obviously right that the media world is constantly changing, and that this isn’t necessarily how we expected it would change - for example the role of blogs and “citizen journalism”. But we knew that. In fact one of the fairer criticisms I have heard of the speech was that didn’t contain very much that was new.
Much of the rest of the criticism of it, I found very depressing. It simply confirmed so much of what he had said. Political opponents and the press all leaped in, to argue that Blair had no right to say any of that, because he himself bore a lot of responsibility for corroding the relationship. Blair had of course of acknowledged this in the speech, but made a decent effort to get beyond allocating blame (the media and other politicians are not blameless either) and reflect on some of the broader issues. Other politicians, predictably, attacked him for it because they knew, and Blair explained in his speech, that that’s what they have to do to get covered. Quod erat demonstrandum.