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Two jobs Browne

Brian Taylor | 13:34 UK time, Friday, 23 November 2007

I am tempted to add to the recently high literary count on this blog and turn to Owen, Sassoon or, in the last resort, Kipling. But I think I will resist.

Not that I have anything against the war poets - and certainly not against Kipling who was a fine, if formulaic, scribe as well as rector of St Andrews University, the world’s number one seat of learning.

But perhaps the comments by former army chiefs of staff re the role of Des Browne deserve direct, rather than oblique, analysis.

I am inclined to leave it to others to comment upon the adequacy or otherwise of the equipment supplied to troops.

Ministers say the criticisms are misplaced. Frankly, I am in no position to know - and would merely add that our serving soldiers deserve the best protection that is available plus the best support back home.

However, perhaps I might chip in a word or two re the other principal comment by the former service chiefs.

Admiral Lord Boyce, who retired as chief of the defence staff in 2003, said it was an “insult” that the prime minister had chosen to make Des Browne serve as Scottish secretary in addition to his main role as defence secretary.

Further, Lord Boyce said this was the message he was getting from the troops.

Hesitant though I am to question the gallant peer, I find it a little difficult to conceive that Britain’s troops - whether in Basra or barracks - are fretting about Des Browne’s workload or about the implications of Cabinet deployment.

More to the point, the post of Scottish secretary is virtually a sinecure. The powers the post used to command are devolved to Holyrood - and the assiduous David Cairns gets through the daily grind, ably assisted by special advisers and officials.

Mr Browne himself says any Scottish duties he undertakes tend to eat into his constituency and - minimal - family time.


  • 1.
  • At 02:17 PM on 23 Nov 2007,
  • John Leven wrote:


This must beg the question then, just why is Des Browne there? What does he do, if anything for Scotland?

Browne on this mornings radio was interesting

"Mr Browne also told the Good Morning Scotland programme this morning: “I devote as much time to being Secretary of State for Defence as I did in the time that I was not the Secretary of State for Scotland.

“I have been with more regularity into the operational theatres than any Secretary of Defence ever has been and when I go out and talk to the troops on the ground they don’t raise these abstract issues about what other title you may have, they look to see what I do."

The spin about constituency and family time, was it added later?

Ergo, Scotland is not important to me or this government, all we want is their votes and their oil

  • 2.
  • At 04:27 PM on 23 Nov 2007,
  • Pendragon wrote:

An interesting Blog.I have often wondered what a Post-Devolution Scottish Secretary actualy does,apart form having a voice in The UK Cabinet and of course,drawing a very good salary at the Taxpayers expence.

  • 3.
  • At 05:10 PM on 23 Nov 2007,
  • Stuart Ritchie wrote:

I always thought Scotland and Defence was a politically silly combination.

Take a situation where a defence contract had two bidders one in Wales and one from Scotland. The SOS for Wales would be lobbying the SOS for Scotland to persuade him the contract should go to Wales not Scotland.

If the contract goes to Wales, people in Scotland would accuse Des Browne of selling out Scotland. If the contract goes to Scotland the Welsh will claim the decision was made by the SOS for Scotland.

It is time to scrap the post of SOS for Scotland, a minister is quite capable of coping with the workload, as long as he doesnt have to orgainse an election of course.

  • 4.
  • At 05:47 PM on 23 Nov 2007,
  • hamilton wrote:

We have our own government and i can think of no reason why it should not handle both devolved and non-devolved matters. The post and mail do not seem at all taxing save to us. So, don't you think he can be spared for the sake of his family, constituents, our armed forces and ourselves as taxpayers to concentrate his efforts where they are clearly needed?
And wouldn't that fine building in Leith provide an excellent way of accommodating our MSPs and civil servants and visitors? Held in trust, with an eagle eyed, regularly refreshed resident's committee, wouldn't it make a model example of a value added PPPs?

Question Time PS: Was that Alan Cochrane with his hand up to leave the room?

  • 5.
  • At 06:08 PM on 23 Nov 2007,
  • Irving Parry wrote:

No one should be surprised that Des Browne has a dual role. Labour Governments have always been "anti" Armed Forces. As a former Senior RAF Officer, I can vouch for that! Cut the number of personnel; increase their responsibilites; expect the impossible. Of course, the Services, typically, rise to the challenge. But there comes a time when, to use an Economists term, Diseconomy sets in. I fear that time is now. I do not know what the political consequences will be. Service people do not concern themselves with Politics - they leave that to others. But I will be very interested to follow the fall out of the Westminster Governments actions as interpreted by our expert political commentators; foremost of whom is Brian

  • 6.
  • At 08:45 PM on 23 Nov 2007,
  • Tom Berney wrote:

>> Service people do not concern themselves with Politics - they leave that to others.

That's a peculiar comment a day after ex-service peers queued up to personally vilify the PM. It's clearly no coincidence that they all did it together at a time when Brown was rocking from other events. Obviously it was orchestated by the new Tory spin doctor importing negative campaigning from USA.

Brian is right of course, that it is absurd to suggest our squaddies are fretting about Des Browne's (Who's he?) worload. I've no axe to grind for New Labour but I do find a concerted attempt by Generals to destabilise the government a bit sinister.

  • 7.
  • At 09:01 PM on 23 Nov 2007,
  • John Kane wrote:

"More to the point" is that "two jobs Des" holds one of the top 4 jobs in government so how can he possibly do another, even in his limited spare time.
If the "sinecure" post of Scottish Secretary has to be combined with another ministerial role then surely a junior member of the Scottish Mafia (Westminster Branch), such as wee Dougie Alexander, would be a more appropriate holder.

  • 8.
  • At 09:05 AM on 24 Nov 2007,
  • Terry Neill wrote:

Surely a Defence Secretary from a Scottish constituency should be able to spend more time on Defence, than an English MP.If he receives any queries on schools, health and the environment he just passes them to the Assembly member as he can't do anything about them. His constituency duties should be considerably lighter.

  • 9.
  • At 10:51 AM on 24 Nov 2007,
  • Chank Nolen wrote:

This is a government which despises the military in a number of deep ways.

Some of that hostility stems from the traditional anti-militarism of the metropolitan left. Can you imagine dear old Ralph Miliband sitting down with the kids to watch 633 Squadron or Zulu? Can you imagine Ed Balls coming back from the newsagents with the latest Commando book, a Sherbet Dip and a toy capgun?

But some of it also stems from the more Trotskyite tendencies of new Labour. Whilst they see the utility of force, they dislike the fact that the armed forces contain power structures which they cannot directly influence -for instance, it is clear that they have struggled to find a puppet to do business with in the armed forces comparable to the likes of Sir Ian Blair in the police.

Also I think they dislike the emphasis on tradition and continuity in the armed forces composition and training. Because we all know nothing good was ever achieved before New Labour came to power.

And finally they are abysmally ignorant. Having met a few Labour politicians, I'm often struck for instance how their understanding of military matters appears to be largely shaped by doing the War Poets in sixth fom and a quick viewing of Ooh What a Lovely War.

  • 10.
  • At 12:54 PM on 24 Nov 2007,
  • Bryan wrote:

Whilst not wishing to accuse an employee of the Brown Broadcasting Corporation(sorry that is what the BBC stands for isn't it ?) of political bias,it would appear you choose to overlook the fact that this man has been given TWO roles - whatever Mr Browne says in his frankly ludicrous claims that he covers the second role by sacrificing his family/constituency life, this just doesn't hold water. One knows that some poisonous little Labour lackey dreamt this pack of lies up to make it look like our Des is a social philanthropist, giving his time freely to the state whilst depriving those close to him - but the simple fact of the matter is, he is wilfully neglecting either Scotland(where he comes from so unlikely), his constituents(those that put him on the gravy train so even more unlikely),his family(the least likely as he has to live with them)or the armed forces in which none of his, nor his boss's family have ever served(and with his boss being openly accused of treating said service with utter contempt by myriad former and current senior officers)- on this evidence Brian,do the statistics yourself to decide which one suffers and then if you still wish to continue toadying to the government, do so by declaring your alliegence first and so remove any question that your blog is based on any semblence of fact

  • 11.
  • At 12:59 PM on 24 Nov 2007,
  • Kevin Jones wrote:

Of course there is another Scot who has been massively over-promoted and who might soon be looking for another job - step forward Alastair Darling

  • 12.
  • At 01:13 PM on 24 Nov 2007,
  • Malcolm wrote:

Tom Berney must be unaware that the enobled generals were speaking in a defence debate in the upper house. They of all people should know the true position of the continuous cutbacks in defence spending, whilst continuous deployment on dangerous missions is demanded, on the ability and morale of our armed forces. There was no conspiarcy to destabilise government, just knowledgeable professionals speaking their mind in a debate, which is exactly what they are there for. For Gordon Brown, and Des Browne, to try and spin their way out of the mess they created is typical of this Labour government. As for the post of Scottish Secretary, I could never understand why there was one, full or part time, even before devolution; there has never been an English Secretary!

  • 13.
  • At 04:34 PM on 24 Nov 2007,
  • David Simons wrote:

Is this also not a sign that Gordon Brown has a real lack of talent to choose from? He has to give Des Browne both jobs because most Labour MPs couldn't run a bath let alone a department.

I think it is a disgusting insult to our armed forces that the Defence Secretary is only a part-time job and Gordon Brown should change this urgently.

  • 14.
  • At 05:49 PM on 24 Nov 2007,
  • Alan wrote:

Squaddies not fretting about Browne? Well, 70% of English want parity with Scotland, they want an English parliament. So, 70% of squaddies of English regiments will be fretting about ANY Scot without mandate in England, won't they?

  • 15.
  • At 07:35 PM on 24 Nov 2007,
  • joihn duguid wrote:

why can Des Browne manage two jobs when labour said A Salmond should give up one of his?

  • 16.
  • At 10:28 PM on 24 Nov 2007,
  • Lee Moore wrote:

We were all on tenterhooks to know where the BBC would come down in a spat between retired military folk and the Labour government.

You're saying Admiral Lord Boyce is just lying when he says that this is a message he's getting from the troops. Presumably you have some evidence ? Or a good libel lawyer ?

  • 17.
  • At 10:34 PM on 24 Nov 2007,
  • Jim wrote:

Mr Browne himself says any Scottish duties he undertakes tend to eat into his constituency time. As a Killie resident I can confirm that. We never hear from him, has done little to help the areas of deprivation in killie.

  • 18.
  • At 10:42 PM on 24 Nov 2007,
  • Paul, Lerwick wrote:

Hold on! I think your damning of Kipling with faint praise is rather unjustified. He was a much more complex character than usually thought. Is there any more searing comment among the war poets than his "If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied"? And didn't he write some rather apposite lines about the politicians responsible for a previous campaign in Iraq/ Mesopotamia too?

  • 19.
  • At 04:16 AM on 25 Nov 2007,
  • James S wrote:

With two current conflicts that are taking up considerable assets in all 3 services and with problems over funding and support, Des Browne is not sending out the right message at all. The defence job is a demanding job - yes Des Browne might say the Scottish job comes out of his time for his constituency - but he would say that and shouldnt he also be using that time for his constituency! Dosent all of this send out the wrong message to not just the Armed Forces,but the Scottish, his constituency and his family. Service men and women are annoyed about this but will not complain whilst in service. And yes maybe the squaddies dont care but the Officers organising everything do.

  • 20.
  • At 09:37 AM on 25 Nov 2007,
  • Lyn David Thomas wrote:

The situation in Scotland is quite different from the situation in Wales. In Scotland the reserve powers of the Secretary of State are quite minimal - while in Wales the Secretary of State has Viceregal powers of control for the National Assembly. It would be quite instructive to know exactly how much time the SoS for Scotland actually spends for that role, but I doubt if it amounts to more than 1/2 hour per day.

  • 21.
  • At 10:15 AM on 25 Nov 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

What’s all this fuss about two jobs Browne, do we not have seven jobs Swinney? (Economy / Budget, Local Government, Energy, Tourism, Climate Change, Public Transport and Scottish Water)

Seriously though, this is merely political pretentiousness delivered as it is to camouflage the Conservative’s campaign of character assassination on the Prime Minister; is it not ironic that a decision to place Browne as a buffer between the Prime Minister and the First Minister, supposedly to the advantage of Gordon Brown, has been hijacked by the opposition to his disadvantage.

In a parallel universe the Conservatives are complaining about an unnecessary and wasteful appointment of a Secretary of State for Scotland post devolution; I do not feel that any Government minister is overworked other than possibly the Prime Minister himself, but if all informants have this workload correctly assessed it would appear self imposed.

It could be said that the Secretary of State for Defence would have more time to concentrate on the armed forces if he did not have to waste his time addressing these deceitfully created issues by the Conservative party.

  • 22.
  • At 11:02 AM on 25 Nov 2007,
  • Doug Harris wrote:

Ref para 6

instead of seeing Tory plots everywhere why not consider the facts?

Can anyone recall this happening before? It has got to the stage where the armed forces, unable to make progress with this government, have taken their arguments to the media and the Lords

We all know the only way to get this government to react to anything is put it in the media

This is incredibly serious - and trying to put it down to some sinister political plot is dodging the issue

If squaddies had votes in marginal NL seats there would be billions flooding in (Northern Rock is a case in point)

  • 23.
  • At 03:45 PM on 25 Nov 2007,
  • Jwil wrote:

George Robertson on BBC today gave Browne his backing as Defence Secretary and in so doing appeared to devalue the job of Scottish Secretary, claiming it did not have a great work content (or words to that effect). If that is so then it should be abolished!

#9 I assume you have your tongue firmly in your cheek?

It may be too early to comment on the Brown years but he was number two in one of Britain's most Kissingerite governments for ten years!

  • 25.
  • At 06:15 PM on 26 Nov 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

Does the Brown Cabinet have a Minister without Portfolio? Or indeed any other post which commands little time, e.g. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

#16 This was Brian's opinion and not a statement of fact, thereby by no stretch of the imagination could this be defamatory.

  • 26.
  • At 12:07 AM on 27 Nov 2007,
  • GI wrote:

Since devolution the SOS for Scotland position has not warranted a seat in the Cabinet. This was NL way to appease the Scots and allow them to say that the SOS for Scotland sits in the Cabinet. If Des Browne had been made Home Secretary (or any other Minister) he would still have had SOS for Scotland attached to him.

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