Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A few words about the reshuffle

There is no intention here of writing about the reshuffle, the last big one, we assume, before next year's General Election, at length. At least, not at this stage since a good many of those promoted remain unknown quantities as I said in my interview with the BBC Russian Service yesterday.

As it happens, I have no objections to women politicians being promoted and find it a little surprising that a number of people who firmly assert that people should be promoted entirely on merit then equally firmly dismiss the idea of any woman being so promoted. Suddenly their thinking is all about gender and the fact that no woman could possibly deserve a higher position. This train of thought is very prevalent among eurosceptics; they call it being anti political correctness and I call it being stupid, stubborn and scared.

Some of this misogyny by whatever name you care to call it was caused by the inept way in which the PR was handled. A reshuffle was coming and there were the usual discussions as to who might fall victim to it and who might benefit by it. Some of the speculations turned out to be correct, some not so much. But in addition to the usual speculations there were many stories, inspired, we must assume, by the whizz-kids around the PM, that women will be promoted and the Cabinet will now be full of women. A good many women were, indeed, promoted though not all the predicted ones and some men. The Cabinet now has some women members but the majority remains male and very few of either sex has so far shown that much ability. What a weapon was handed to the misogynists who now assert at length that those who were promoted were so because of their sexual organs not because of their ability. I note, however, that they do not mention any male politicians who have been unfairly kept on the back benches.

Moving on to individuals, I have to admit to an unsurprising to readers of this blog lack of interest in William Hague's fate. From the day he was appointed Shadow Foreign Secretary I thought he was inadequate to the role and the stories circulating about him treating one of the great offices of state as a part-time job did not endear him to me. His statements tended to be rather foolish and superficial, showing no understanding of Britain's position in the world or of the EU and its impositions. Come to think of it, I recall that he showed a complete lack of understanding about the differences between the relationship Britain might have with China and with India. To him they were two developing countries we have to be close to, in order to balance out our "unhealthy" dependence on the US.

Not only is Hague retiring from front-line politics, he intends to leave Parliament altogether next year, preferring to concentrate on his career as, possibly, writer and, definitely, speaker. So much for the great predictions, the first of which was by Margaret Thatcher who, famously, mused about the 16-year old William Hague that he might be the new William Pitt.

His successor, Philip Hammond, hitherto Secretary for Defence is known as a man who once said that he would vote for Britain's exit from the EU if powers were not brought back to Westminster but has also expressed the hope that we should still be there in five years' time. Still, he is known as the most senior eurosceptic in the government now and his successor Michael Fallon is also making noises about this being a eurosceptic government.

So obsessed is our media about the newly promoted female contingent that they do not seem to be able to dig particularly deeply into this nonsensical myth that is being promoted. The Boss, of course, is there, tearing Fallon and the media apart. Matthew Elliott, on the other hand, thinks that the reshuffled Cabinet is good news for eurosceptics (I asked him for his definition but have not had a reply) and shows Cameron responding to the lessons of the European election. So far as I can see there was only one lesson: the majority of this country has no interest in voting for MEPs and does not care who get their snouts into the trough.

I have few opinions about some of the other discarded Ministers and join all those who think Ken Clarke's departure was long overdue. Sadly, I do not think he will disappear from our ken (pun intended) but will be seen and heard frequently on the BBC and other media outlets, proffering his opinions and judgements.

There are two departures (one only partial) that I do have views on and those are of Michael Gove and Owen Paterson, both, incidentally, stronger eurosceptics than any of the present incumbents. Gove has moved on to becoming Chief Whip, which can be described as "a brave decision Prime Minister". I am looking forward to his handling of the various colleagues who had briefed against him as he battled the teachers' unions and the educational establishment.

Paterson, who is one of the few leading politicians (make that very few) who actually understands the European Union and our membership of it, is now on the backbenches. That might not be a bad thing as it will give him the opportunity to speak out more openly than he could even as a rebellious member of the Cabinet.

So much for the silver lining. Now for the clouds: both the Ministers were shunted off in response to a determined campaign by the teachers' unions in one case and the Greenies in the other. This does not reflect well on the Prime Minister and his preparedness to stand by his colleagues if they try to implement policies that are slightly more radical and less acceptable to the soft left establishment than usual. (To be fair, he left Iain Duncan Smith in his place but that might be simply because he does not think Duncan Smith is ever going to implement anything.)

Indeed, there is much rejoicing in Greenie and educational establishment circles. Some of the attacks on Gove and the rejoicing at his departure were so illiterate that I was almost tempted to ask whether the writers were teachers. (This, incidentally, is worth reading on what Nicky Morgan, Michael Gove's successor, should grapple with.)

I noticed on another thread that Elizabeth Truss, the new Secretary for the Environment, whose credentials on this particular subject are not strong enough to feel that she can fight DEFRA and the EU (but then who can? even Owen Paterson found it almost impossible), is already being lambasted by the Greenies for having worked for Shell. Either there is more to the lady than I realized or the Greenies have tasted blood (if I am allowed to use that expression) and are determined to destroy every successive Secretary of State.

Nicky Morgan, too, has fallen foul of the luvvies. Michael Rosen, who has figured on this blog as a figure of fun before, is said to have tweeted his disgust with her because she voted against same sex marriage in Parliament. Whether I agree with Ms Morgan or not, that news and Mr Rosen's disgust made me feel a little better about her: she clearly has some opinions and has not been too afraid to make them clear.

Readers may have noticed that I am producing a carefully argued posting here and not a rant. That is because I do not think this is the worst reshuffle in 25 years or a particularly good one either. It does not, pace Matthew Elliott, do anything much for the eurosceptic wing of the party or the eurosceptic part of the electorate.

My friend, John O'Sullivan, thinks most of it is bad though he quite likes Michael Fallon taking over defence and will benefit UKIP. He may well be right on most points but not that. John keeps hoping UKIP will benefit from something and show its mettle at last - a vain hope in my opinion.

So that leaves the man who is going to Brussels: Lord Hill of Oareford. There had been many suggestions of various MPs who would be "definitely" sent to Brussels but I do not see anything wrong with a member of the House of Lords becoming a Commissioner. No, he is not an elected politician but how does that affect his suitability for the job of a Commissioner? On the whole, his career in the couloirs of politics might give him a better understanding of how to manipulate that of Brussels. Why would a failed though formerly elected politician do any better or be of greater benefit to this country? Was Neil Kinnock better or Leon Brittan?

Had I paid more attention to ConHome I would have realized a couple of weeks ago which way the wind was blowing. On June 26, Lord Hill denied that he would ever be Commissioner, or that his name was even being considered. Now Mark Wallace sums up the pros and cons of the appointment, complains a little about the fact that Lord Hill is not known outside his own circle and, generally, treats the position as if it were an ordinary ministerial one.

I have seen other complaints about Lord Hill being unknown. Was the very well known Neil Kinnock a better choice, I asked, getting no reply. If it is true that he did not want the job then that is something in his favour but what, if anything, he can achieve remains a matter of dispute. After all, if the negotiations for Brexit should begin they will not be conducted by the Commissioner but by the government.

Intriguingly, Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, and a man who is often the unconscious source of hilarity, has announced that MEPs might vote against Lord Hill's appointment because of his "radical anti-European views". Where do these people get their information?

As Steven Swinford says:
His comments surprised Westminster, where Lord Hill is not renowned for his outspoken views but instead praised as a discreet, diplomatic behind-the-scenes fixer.
In fact, completely appropriate to the organization he is being sent to. Plus he looks like somebody out of a Le Carré novel. That'll show them.

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