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Reshuffle ruminations

  • Michael Crick
  • 25 Jan 08, 06:28 PM

Gordon Brown’s first government reshuffle, in the wake of Peter Hain’s resignation, was rather more extensive than it might have been, with a procession of ministers - James Purnell, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Caroline Flint simply taking short steps behind each other up the ministerial ladder. It must surely be hugely disruptive to the working of government when several ministers like these in complicated and sensitive jobs are only in post for seven months before they move on. It would have been far simpler surely, to promote Caroline Flint from minister of state at the department of Work and Pensions into the Secretary of State’s job and leave Purnell, Burnham and Cooper in their existing positions. By my reckoning Yvette Cooper is the ninth person to serve as Chief Secretary in less than eleven years of Labour government (Alistair Darling, Stephen Byers, Alan Milburn, Andrew Smith, Paul Boateng, Des Browne, Stephen Timms and Andy Burnham being her predecessors).

Yvette CooperNow with Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper we have the first married couple in a British cabinet in British history, though not, I suspect, the first lovers (suggestions anyone?). It would be interesting to know, though, how they will handle things when Balls goes to see his wife to negotiate future schools budgets.

The resignation of Bruce Grocott as government whip in the Lords sees the departure from government of probably the last remaining link with the Wilson government, since Grocott first acted as a ministerial PPS in 1975. More significant, Brown loses an experienced, battle-hardened figure who played an important role at the heart of the Blair regime (as Blair’s PPS). His replacement as Lords whip, Jan Royall was once extremely close to Neil Kinnock, having worked as his secretary and adviser for almost twenty years, in both Westminster and Brussels. More recently she was a key figure in the Brown leadership campaign, and I recall her at one campaign event fulfilling the rather unseemly task (for a member of the Lords, I felt), of kneeling on the ground, arms out-stretched, trying to hold back the pressure of reporters and cameramen.

Peter Hain faces the pressIn Peter Hain, the Cabinet has undoubtedly lost one of its more colourful figures. Hain has been a famous face for almost four decades, longer than anyone in government. He first made his name, barely out of his teens, with his chairmanship of the anti-apartheid campaign, which successfully blocked the 1970 South African test tour, sparking the famous headline ‘Hain Stops Play’. He’s one of the few Cabinet ministers to have written any books, and his long list of works even includes a novel – The Peking Connection - though I’ve yet to read it. (The only other ministerial novelist I know of is the Justice Minister Michael Wills, who’s recently published a couple of thrillers under the pseudonym David Mckeowen).

True, Hain had been greatly weakened politically by his poor showing in the deputy leadership contest, and by the subsequent furore of his donations, but he was one of independent voices in government, occasionally willing to show dissent with one or another aspect of government policy. He was one of the few people round Gordon Brown’s cabinet table whom I could imagine arguing with the Prime Minister or being willing to tell Brown when he was wrong.

With James Purnell (37), Andy Burnham (38), Yvette Cooper (38), Ed Miliband (38) and Ruth Kelly (39), the Cabinet now has five members under the age of 40, and two others, Douglas Alexander and Ed Balls who are only 40, making it surely the most youthful cabinet in modern times. OK, it makes the government look youthful and fresh, and these are all highly intelligent and able individuals, but what Gordon Brown badly needs are more wise old greybeards who have a bit more experience of real life than political advisers have.

People, in fact, like Peter Hain and Bruce Grocott.

Watch Newsnight coverage of Peter Hain's resignation on the Big Fat Newsnight Politics Page.

Friday, 25 January, 2008

  • Gavin Esler
  • 25 Jan 08, 05:35 PM

Today's Quote for the Day:
"This is just bad luck, it's Murphy's Law. We discovered it at the same time as the markets plummeted. US markets went up last night and we were really unlucky, but we had to settle these positions as fast as we could and we did so during the three-day market crisis" - Societe Generale chairman Daniel Bouton after it was revealed that a rogue trader lost the group 4.9 billion euros (£3.7 billion).

In tonight's programme:
Jerome KervielWho knew what and when about the French rogue trader? Did his stock market gamble really panic the US central bank, the Federal reserve, into cutting interest rates by 0.75%?

We're hopeful of a big interview from Davos... well, we live in hope.

Musharraf
Pakistan's president Musharraf is in London. Can he now preside over some kind of political compromise? Will the upcoming elections be free and fair?

Cocaine
FARC guerrillas in Colombia have a new way of thwarting the US government's war on drugs. We've a special report.
Watch our previous report from Colombia on cocaine production

Newsnight Review
elah203x100.jpgJohn Wilson is joined by Sarfraz Manzoor, Jeanette Winterson and Peter Whittle to discuss:
In the Valley of Elah starring Oscar-nominee Tommy Lee Jones; Martin Amis' 9/11 novel, The Second Plane; a new London production of David Hare's The Vertical hour after its New York debut; and the exhibition that caused almost sparked international incident - French and Russian Master Paintings 1870–1925 from Moscow and St Petersburg at the Royal Academy.
Details on all those on the Newsnight Review website.

Prospects for Friday, 25 January

  • Newsnight
  • 25 Jan 08, 10:35 AM

Robert Morgan is today's programme producer..

Hello everyone,

There are a few good stories around today. New lines on the rogue trader and Hain story. Gordon Brown is at Davos talking about the global economy. President Musharraf is speaking at RUSI about the state of Pakistan.

We have also have a film about FARC's new tactics to combat the US army's war on drugs.

Robert

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