Friday, December 07, 2007

After Gordon

It seems incredible that after only five months in office, Labour MPs are already discussing Gordon Brown's successor. Indeed, it's not just Labour MPs, it's Westminster journalists too. Fraser Nelson and Andy Grice have both written about the subject this week. So I thought I would throw in my two pennyworth. The mark of a successful leader is to manage his or her succession. It was one of Margaret Thatcher's biggest failures that she didn't do this. There's no reason why Gordon Brown should already have started to think about this, but in future reshuffles he will have to. From what Fraser says he seems to think that it may well be a battle between Ed Balls and David Miliband. Miliband is a talented man but lacks a common touch whereas Ed Balls is, well, an incredible candidate for the position. He needs to improve just about every part of his political armoury, not least his dreadful media presence. He seems unable to articulate a simple argument without his eyes bulging out of his head.

But if you look through the current Cabinet, who are the other alternatives? If we assume that Brown goes after an election defeat we can rule out Jack Straw. Alan Johnson has already ruled himself out. The only other serious contenders I can see would be...

Jacqui Smith - if she retains her seat and becomes a serious player
Hilary Benn - a safety first option
James Purnell - if he plays things right

If I were a Labour MP I'd be thinking of John Denham. Articulate, moderate, safe pair of hands, possibly a bit dull, but competent. And that's what the Labour Party may need after an election defeat.

But I think even Labour supporters will look at the current Cabinet and view it as extremely weak. Compare it to Jim Callaghan's Cabinet in 1979 when it was possible to identify at least eight or nine serious contenders to take over from him. Brown's task now should be to promote talent from the Minister of State level. The trouble is there isn't much. Liam Byrne, Tony McNulty, Jim Knight, Ben Bradshaw, Phil Woolas, Pat McFadden, Mike O'Brien, Caroline Flint, Rosie Winterton, Yvette Cooper, John Healey Margaret Hodge, Paul Goggins, Bill Rammell, Ian Pearson... I can only identify about four who would make half decent Cabinet ministers - and none who would be able to compete for the top job.

Compare this with the top rank of the Conservative Shadow Cabinet. Fraser Nelson was rather cutting in his article, where he said...

David Cameron has meanwhile been going back to his constituency and preparing for government. This has involved a fairly sober assessment of how many genuinely Cabinet-grade people he has on his team (he struggled to get into double digits). Ideally, his next reshuffle should be the last. It is vital for his prospects that the Tory frontbench look and sound like a competent government-in-waiting in comparison to the disintegrating Brown Cabinet.

I think that's unfair. I've just gone through the same process and easily got into double figures! And no, I'm not going to name those I would dispatch. Man for man, woman for woman, I reckon that for the first time in a decade the Tories outmatch their Labour opponents. Forget your party political hat and go down the list and give them each marks out of ten, and you'll see what I mean...

Brown v Cameron
Miliband v Hague
Smith v Davis
Browne v Fox
Darling v Osborne
Denham v Willetts
Balls v Gove

And so on. See what I mean? The issue for some senior Conservatives (are you listening Ken Clarke?) is whether they wish to serve in the next Tory government (don't those words sound great, now that they no longer provoke guffaws of laughter?). If they do, they'd better make it clear to David Cameron before the next reshuffle, because if they don't agree to do some legwork before the next election, David Cameron will have to ignore whatever claims to office they may have.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

A weak leader surrounds himself with pygmies.

Man in a Shed said...

After Gordon - does it matter who the new leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition is going to be ?

On a serrious point - Labour has lost its way. Your analysis shows why - all personalities, no politics let alone strategy (if you ignore the automatic guff that comes from the New Labour Stepford Ministers when asked this question).

Just what is the point of the Labour party ? ( Anyone who finds that an easy question could also attempt the same question for the Lib Dems ).

Anonymous said...

You are right about the comparison. This lot we have now are not up to the job.

I think the public service pay dispute will bite the arse of that home secretary. She looks like brown has handed her an a4 sheet with what the home office is to do on it. I can believe even she feels she is just a mouthpiece to a few in 10 Downing street who are running everything.

Anonymous said...

James Purnell !!!!

There is more chance of Iain Paisley becoming Pope !!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

The paucity of talent in all parties is depressing.

The Conservatives have too many who are second rate. They appear better than they really are because their counterparts in other parties are all too often third rate.

Juan Kerr said...

'Jim' Knight is a uninspiring loyalist to whoever is in charge of ZanuLiebour, to Bliar, or to Bottler, and is also a trades union dummy, who, if South Dorset Conservative Association should eventually get around to pulling their collective fingers out, (please!) will not be an MP after the next election.

Dave Bartlett said...

There's a Douglas Carswell interview on YouTube that always makes me more optimistic about the future of the Conservatives and the country.

mitch said...

If gordon is the bar then god help em cos hes useless and they are all worse,not an opinion among them or honour or any other saving grace.
So its goodbye labour for about 20yrs hopefully.
gordons legacy will be a party of nonentities he set out to destroy the tories but like any predator he has by evolution made his enemy stronger.
For a so called intellectual he is very stupid.

Anonymous said...

well you can discount Liam Byrne, going by your most recent posting, exactly the kind of politician good for nothing more then a good kicking

tgf ukip said...

Iain, great minds think alike or fools seldom differ - take your choice. To some derision I, too, floated John Denham on The Spectator's Coffee House blog yesterday and I would just point out that you omitted what might well be his biggest selling point, to the constituency parties at least, his early resignation from the government over the Iraq war. As regards your advocacy of Ken Clarke, I won't write what I really think, but would just point out that the Tory Party has no more rogue and disruptive figure than Clarke. Go back to nineties and look who really ignited most of the European troubles for Major. It wasn't "The Bastards" most of the time, it was Clarke. The only positive reason I can see for you advocating Clarke is that social democrat Cameron would be perfectly complemented by social democrat Clarke. But perhaps a liberal, progressive social democrat party is what Iain Dale really wants?

jonathan hemlock said...

And what chance does Alistair Darling have when he'll be fall guy for all the economic down-turn we'll see in 2008....starting with the aftermath of Northern Rock?

You can read about it here

Anonymous said...

Fully agree with your main comments. There is little talent coming through in this dreadful Labour Government. God forbid they get another term. If you combined the skills of Smith, Ball, Miliband, Purnell and Balls you still wouldn't get a half decent PM.

As you also say the Conservative Front Bench looks much stronger but how can you conceive that there might be a place for old anti-democratic dinosaurs like Clarke.

The man is a Jurassic parliamentarian who seemingly has no real interest in democracy or localism. What is worse he can't keep his gob shut. He is a liability to the party in my view.

I would be greatly concerned if Clarke, Gummer and those of that old Parliamentarian ilk got anywhere near the front bench.

The conservatives need to take the country forward not backwards....

MorrisOx said...

No, no and no to James Purnell. He may be a Paul Smith-wearing, Starbucks-sipping charmer, but his desire to go places knows no bounds (not even time and distance - this is the man, remember, who can appear on photographs even when he wasn't there!).
I had a lengthy chat the other day with someone who was, shall we say, quite senior in the leisure sector of non-government agencies until recently, and he passed some rather fruity opinions about this public school smoothie, whose time as a SPAD for Blair has not stood in the way of his desire to do Gordon's bidding.

This is a brazenly careerist politician who's only real 'job' was working as a planner for John Birt at the BBC.

Enough said.

Mark Harrison said...

I had assumed that the Labour Party were going to start with about a dozen leadership candidates, and eliminate one every Saturday evening based on a phone-in poll by viewers.

Each Saturday, they'd have to compete in a three rounds:

- A political debate
- A song or dance
- A novelty round thought up by the production company which could be anything

The format could be called something like: IDOL (with the I and the O made into a sort of YesPrimeMinster-Style number 10 and the D and L turned into "Downing Street", and "London" respectively.)


You may mock, but this WILL happen in our lifetime :-)

houndtang said...

Were there really 8 or 9 credible successors to Jim Callaghan? There were a lot of forgotten figures like David Ennals, Fred Peart and Albert Booth in that cabinet.

DiscoveredJoys said...

Your overlooking the one convincing Cabinet Post under MacGordon MacBrown - the absence of Patricia Hewitt.

DiscoveredJoys said...

" Articulate, moderate, safe pair of hands, possibly a bit dull, but competent."

Sounds like John Major - and we know what happened there...

javelin said...

These people wouldn't make middle-managers in an investment bank. Low grade. Most wouldn't be out of place as year heads in a comprehensive school.

What's it they say "If you can't teach ..."

Newmania said...

I must be getting good at this blogging , I have done all this already ...me me me.

My theory is that the ten years of battle have produced a fiercer Conservative beast wheras in Labour the creep slithers on and what a lot of mazola men and women they are .
There is an astounding contrast though.

КАЛИИНГРАД said...

Come on. Think laterally.

Besides a manager, they're short of a striker and an inside left.

Well, that's Vince Cable and Chris H.

Nothing in the rules about transfer fees either.

verity said...

Newmania - Tell us more.

PSJ said...

Absolutely agree with the post - NuLab are a bunch of talentless non-entities when they are not completely appalling (e.g. the awful Alexander siblings). They have no focus beyond this week's newspapers. It's only the biased BBC and the equally biased electoral system which makes me think that they're even in the running for a fourth term.

If we win in 2009 or 2010 we really must do something about both ...

The Remittance Man said...

It's a sign of a very insecure leader to make sure that none of one's deputies offers any threat to one's own position.

Yet more evidence of Mr Brown's unsuitability for office methinks and yet more ammunition for the Conservatives if they care to use it.

John M Ward said...

Kaleengrad wrote: "Besides a manager, they're short of a striker and an inside left."

Well, if the public sector pay dispute isn't settled, they'll soon have lots of strikers.

Oh, and I also thought all the Left were already inside the Government...

Oh, you meant football! I don't know much about that, and I intend that it stays that way.

If government can be likened to a sport, I suppose PMQs is somewhat like tennis, though.

Back to Iain's side-by-side comparison: that does make a very good point, and I hadn't thought of it that starkly before.

Although, as has been said elsewhere, I don't get the feeling that the Conservative Shadow Ministers are all up to a first-class standard (yet?), overall they have over the months given a strong impression of being far more capable, competent and trustworthy than their ministerial opposites.

Whereas this time last year I was thinking simply that we need this change of gov't simply to stop the rot, now I do feel that such a change would produce a much better outcome than just that.

Perhaps, if the Donorgate situation worsens much further, HM Queen might soon have no choice but to dissolve her Government. I hope so; and then we shall see some changes!

tmmdi said...

Denham is a nasty piece of work. Just ask anyone who has worked near him in Government or his constituency- bullying, intolerant, unpleasant, arrogant, incompetent, ungracious and ungrateful are just some of the terms used by those unfortunate enough to work for him (though to be fair, for some unaccountable reason fellow MPs seem to like him - maybe he doesn't treat them like dirt). He inspires neither loyalty nor affection. Not a good option.

Chris Paul said...

Guffaw guffaw

And Purnell? Ha ha ha

jafo said...

If James Purnell is the answer - what is the question?

Tony Blair made John Prescott "Deputy Prime Minister" on the grounds that (quoting badly from memory of school history lessons) "no one was going to kill TB to make JP king". The no threat option.

Gordon Brown seems to have gone even further by making sure there is no one at all in the Cabinet - possibly even the Party - who could be remotely considered as Prime Ministerial material.

The Conservatives appear to have finally got their act together, battle hardened at last it seems, and there are a number on the Shadow Front Bench who seem to be intelligent, competent and capable of speaking in public in a coherent manner.

When you look at the dead wood on the Government Front Bench and the contrast on the Opposition benches, these days I feel quite cheerful!

canvas said...

I think Alan Johnson is best suited for the job.

How much longer can Gordon Brown remain in power? 2008 could be the year of change...

la breeze said...

Come on Iain...be serious. Apart from Cameron/Osbourne/Hague/Davis there aren't really any other consistently high performing Tories, are there?

The only reason why the Tories are looking so good, is because Labour ministers are so crap!

Willett's cocked up the grammar schools announcement royally. Theresa May missed a spectacular open goal with Harman in the Commons and perfromed poorly. Francis Maude is like Portillo's creepy older brother...

Apart from the big four on the Tory frontbench, there is a lack of talent in the Tory party. Same goes for Labour and the Lib Dems!

Paul Linford said...

Houndtang is right about the Callaghan government. After the death of Crosland and the departure of Roy Jenkins to Brussels, the only plausible successor in that Cabinet was Healey. Of course the Labour Party chose Foot instead and the rest, as they say, is history.

Iain is right about Ken Clarke in my view - it would be a huge coup de theatre if Cameron could persuade him to come on board - but I think he's wrong about the relative merits of the Cabinet/Shadow Cabinet. Other than Osborne and of course DD I dont see anyone in that line-up regularly out-gunning their opposite number. Michael Gove doesn't count because he's up against Blinky Balls who is indeed a literally incredible candidate for the future leadership.

Methuselah said...

Party politics aside, is Gordon Brown the worst Prime Minister in living memory ?

tapestry said...

Rule out Jack Straw? Why????

He's the only one who knows how to communicate.

jockman said...

As someone outside of the Westminster village I can confidently say that there is only one person in the Tory party I would consider worthy of PM and that is Hague - definately NOT Cameron. Brown has until 2010 to make something of his premiership and I believe the Tories are using up their arsenal too quickly. Ordinary punters tire quickly of political arguments. Donorgate is quickly becoming boring. Here in Scotland Labour is failing to oppose effectively because it is not in their nature or knowledge and many of their attempts are having a positive effect for the SNP (11 point lead). There is possibly some mileage in the Tories negative attacks on Labour's dodgy funding (but what happens when Tory funding is found to be dodgy - don't laugh it has probably already happened and some junior Tory is shitting their breeks) yet their is greater mileage in positive opposition which the Tories in England and Labour in Scotland should start to work on. and finally... I hope donorgate disappears soon (preferably with top level resignations) because if I see Jackie Baillie with her condescending 'at the end of the day Wendy did not break the letter or the spirit of the law' speech I will send her to donor martydom!! And Iain I was once a member of the Labour party who thought Kinnock would be a great PM but I took a step back and surveyed the scenery!

Roger Thornhill said...

I am surprised you did not mention Milburn. I know he is below the radar, but considering the monumental, cabinet-wide horlicks that this government is, that is a wise move.