Tag Archives: Ken Clarke

Closet or Cabinet?

Dr Liam Fox and now Oliver Letwin have given David Cameron the sort of distractions which he does not really need. There has been speculation about each man’s political future and the doom-mongers reckon that “it’s all unravelling”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A few years ago, I  had a meeting at Conservative Central Office (when the Party could still afford Smith Square) with Lord Freeman who, at the time, was in charge of Candidates. We discussed the possibility of me testing prospective members of Parliament so that the Party did not have to rely on patronage and the  depressingly amateurish local interviews which continue to be a feature of candidate selection.

Had we gone ahead  with the plans, the present Cabinet would have contained some candidates who would have been pre-vetted by me. In the event, it was decided not to go ahead with something which may have caused certain future Ministers embarrassment.  Mind you, this parliament has produced those who are managing maximum embarrassment without any external help.

However, in the main, DC has assembled a surprisingly able bunch of characters.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – David Cameron is a good, solid Prime Minister and, given the time, he could become a great one. There is just one thing holding him back – the lack of depth in his “one-downers”. The Cabinet.

Here’s the list:

Nick Clegg, William Hague, George Osborne, Ken Clarke, Theresa May, Liam Fox, Vince Cable, Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Huhne, Andrew Lansley, Michael Gove, Eric Pickles, Philip Hammond, Caroline Spelman, Andrew Mitchell, Owen Patterson, Michael Moore, Cheryl Gillan, Jeremy Hunt, Danny Alexander, Lord Strathclyde, Baroness Warsi, Francis Maude, Oliver Letwin, David Willets, Sir George Young, Patrick McLoughlin, Dominic Grieve.

No problems at all with the first five:

Nick Clegg has the most difficult job, both as a politician and nanny to his confused Liberals who, in spite of (mostly) enjoying  the aphrodisiac nature of power, are still a bit uncertain as to whether they are really participating or merely ballast. His sometimes diffident manner disguises a will of steel.

William Hague has grown into his job, in spite of the shaky start with Libya. He has credibility abroad which is probably one of the most important attributes of any Foreign Secretary.

George Osborne, unsurprisingly has been the recipient of more “stick” than any other politician but , love him or hate him, he has shown courage and tenacity and sometimes, downright stubbornness. Whether those attributes are born of economic understanding or just downright bloody-mindedness, remains to be seen. What is in his favour is that, unlike many others – he takes decisions and stands by them.

Ken Clarke has made the legal system accessible. I know that sounds a bit fanciful but in spite of his occasional too-straight talking , he is a great antidote to a legal system which makes bankers and their bonuses look like paupers. Currently, both the economy and David Cameron need a Lord Chancellor who at least “appears” non-elitist because sooner or later, we are going to scrutinise the multi-billion pound cash machine that is THE LAW.

Theresa May is annoying. However, she is good at her job and so far, does not appear to have put a a faux leopard skin kitten-heel-clad foot wrong. She too is not afraid to take unpopular decisions. Her handling of both the News International scandal and the inner city rioting was impeccable.

I would also add Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove to the A-team. IDS has proved that there is life after political death and has been delivering spectacular results with his pensions initiatives. He is both a great theorist as well as having a rare quality among politicians – he is a “doer”.

Michael Gove has been quietly ploughing the Education furrow  and shaking-up an over-bureaucratic education system and has not been afraid to take some very unpopular decisions. He too is a “doer”. His thinking on education harks back to the 60s when children were educated and not used as test and statistics fodder. 10/10

Philip Hammond at Transport also belongs in the A-team and is without doubt a star of the future. He is lucky though to have both Norman Baker and Mike Penning as Parliamernary Under Secretaries.  Norman the Idealist and Mike the “no shit”  British Bulldog. Philip Hammond is seen on TV as a government spokesman much more than you might expect from a Secretary for Transport.

Dr Liam Fox has been delivering what, on the surface has been a solid job – if not a bit over-influenced by the balance sheet. He has always looked like the Conservatives’ “nearly man”. Soon, he may be the “never really was” man – as his political career begins to unravel. He, in common with all politicians should remember that Perception is King. The current perception of him is now tending towards  the seedy.

Vince Cable was always going to be a problem and continues to be a bit of a thorn. He is a natural backroom boy and looks terribly uncomfortable in the back of a Ministerial limo. However, by far his biggest handicap is the fact that he is having increasing difficulty in disguising his Socialist views. He seems to be in permanent pain. Very soon, his political career will  describe the downward arc of the parabola. He is the Statler and Waldorf of the Cabinet and compared to some of the other youngsters is from the wrong generation. His obssession with the bankers is hurting his credibility because he has not managed to do anything about them and never will.

Chris Huhne is even more annoying than Theresa May (!) but his personal life and the alleged driving licence naughtiness has totally blown his credibility. He is lucky that he is a Liberal – otherwise he may have already participated in an exit interview with DC.

Andrew Lansley is running the NHS in the way that you would expect from a career Civil Servant. He is doubtless very able – as a Civil Servant – but the NHS currently needs a large dose of commercial thinking. Everything that he has put forward so far has been through the wringer. Wrong man in the wrong job.

Eric Pickles is a great man in every sense.  He provides the Cabinet with some Northern credibility. From a Labour family, this ex-Communist has travelled the entire political spectrum and is one of the shrewdest operators in Government. He is one of the few in Cabinet who is 100% suited to his brief with the advantage of being a working-class Conservative.

One Cabinet member who one could have been forgiven for thinking would, by now be running one of the great Departments of State is Francis Maude. He is a rock-solid operator and should, without doubt be on the real A-team. As Minister at the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General , he has been handed a temporary consolation prize. He has not peaked yet. As a former Managing Director of Morgan Stanley, he knows things.  Street-wise.

Oliver Letwin is Minister of State at the Cabinet office is DC’s Policy Adviser. Like many intellectuals, he appears to be constantly stressed and “away with the fairies”.  He is the archetypal analytical-amiable who cannot manage himself – or others – and has been given the “Special Projects” brief. He is currently the recipient of a press-roasting but, like a good luck charm, will always be retained in some capacity. It is a pity that other Cabinet members cannot spot “burn-out” when they see it.

David Willets, like Letwin is a white-hot intellectual who is good to have around. He is articulate and fiercely bright.  He would have done much better , had he not looked like a spud. His great disadvantage is a lack of any “street-cred” because he has always been a political “wonk”. Having said all that, he is the ideal person to be looking after Universities and Science with the advantage of being so clever that there isn’t a single other member anywhere NEAR as suitable for this job.

Danny Alexander is another (young) career politician and his appointment has always smacked of tokenism with the added suspicion that David Laws is hanging about whilst DC waits for a respectable passage of time before he invites him back.

Sir George Young SHOULD have been Speaker of the House and his present post as Leader of the House is his consolation prize.  He is marking time because he will probably be the next Speaker. In spite of a comparatively undistinguished Parliamentary career so far, he gives the Cabinet gravitas.

Next we have the Cabinet  “solid citizens”.  All are capable but not stars: Caroline Spelman, Andrew Mitchell, Owen Patterson, Michael Moore, Cheryl Gillan, Jeremy Hunt, Patrick McLoughlin and Dominic Grieve are all OK but will never set the world on fire.

Finally we have the youthful, Lord Strathclyde, or should I say Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, 2nd Baron Strathclyde. As Leader in the Lords, he is a very safe pair of hands and is a Conservative straight from Tory Central Casting. A great asset to the Cabinet.

Baroness Warsi is Chairman of the Conservative Party and although a competent TV performer, she always sounds as if she’s reading from a Tory pamphlet. She is very likely to be reshuffled out soon. Bearing in mind that Perception is King, her appointment smacked of tokenism.

So, you see that , in spite of the elitist-millionaire tags, the Cabinet is largely populated by a very cabable and  solid bunch of operators –  although the real depth of talent within the Coalition parties is still a bit of a mystery – even, one suspects, to David Cameron himself.

This Cabinet has a good mix of experience, intellect and toughness.

Whether or not you share their views or politics – they are (by far) the ones who have the very best chance of extricating us from where we have landed.

There is a rarely-printed saying in politics: “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups”

……. Do they mean us?!

For those voters who do not quite understand local politics, it may well be worth describing that most council chambers are organised along Westminster lines. There is a Council Leader (he is the equivalent of a Prime Minister), a “cabinet”, disciplined Westminster-style voting (so that most councillors only have backbencher status) and various committees. Plus, the whole thing is supported by a permanent civil-service-like  bureaucracy.

Since the gradual separation (at local level) of economic and political leadership, the calibre of local councillors has fallen.  Nowadays, individuals who are economically important within a community do not necessarily have an interest in local government. Whereas years ago a typical councillor may have been a land-owning or business-owning member of a well-established local family, nowadays, individuals who run substantial local businesses are very rarely long-standing locals.

Nowadays, local companies often “import” senior managers and directors. They arrive from other parts of the country or even abroad and although they may have the skills to manage and govern, they do not have any particular interest in local goings-on,  because  they know that their job-tenure will be short-lived.  In addition, they know that it is central government policy and not local government which is crucial to their company’s profitability. They tend NOT to stand for election – which is a shame, because they have organisational skills which are often lacking in elected local politicians.

In 1967, the Maud Committee on Management in Local Government stated that “many councillors see council work as a supplement to their lives”. Some of the reasons which have been  given for becoming a councillor – prestige, recognition, seeking a better social life, vanity, stepping-stone to a career in Westminster, self-improvement. (Yes, I KNOW that I omitted the “to serve” mantra).

Luckily though, there are still people out there who are local, feel strongly about local issues, want to serve the local community and are not on a power-trip or an imaginary (in most cases!) practice-run for Westminster.

In local politics, the “management classes” have largely given way to the “talking professions” because the ability to debate has become a more precious skill than the ability to manage large amounts of money and to organise.  The old-fashioned free-thinker has given way to the party pack-animal who will normally vote as the party tells him – the ideology of the party has displaced the common-sense of the independent individual.

In spite of all this, we do need local government . The  usual voting turnout during a local election (below 40%) gives strength to the “centralist” argument  which is in favour of power being taken away from local councils. That is just one of the reasons why it is important to vote.  If we do not vote, we give the impression that we do not care about or want local government. THAT is one of the most important reasons why we should all vote in the local elections.

However, if you do decide to participate in the local election, make sure that you do not waste your vote.

There was a time when party politics had nothing to do with local elections. Hopefully, one day local politics will return to choosing individuals who are best-suited to manage  and control local issues and budgets.

Every party has individuals who are good at what they do. “Comeback Kid” Ken Clark (C) has to be admired for his no-nonsense political skills and tenacity. Harriet Harman (L) is universally liked and respected and is a very skillful Westminster operator. Norman Baker (LD) is an outstanding MP who is doing an excellent job on behalf of his constituents. Their abilities have nothing to do with political allegiance. They are good at what they do.

We should not be voting for Liberals because we have a good Liberal MP. We should not be ignoring any able Conservatives because we’re temporarily unhappy with the Chancellor. For those with long memories – the Labour handling of the Iraq problem or the apparent ineptitude of the last administration should not influence us if we have a Labour candidate who looks as if he or she has a contribution to make.

What should influence us at local level is simple – which INDIVIDUAL do we believe can be entrusted with the responsibility of representing us most effectively on the Council.

Blind partisan voting will only give us a random chance of voting-in the finest. At best we will elect a few good people  – at worst, we will vote-in a single party, many of whom will just be “ballast”. Remember Blair’s Babes? They sit, nod or shake their heads like Muppets while those with proper views do the talking and decision-making.

There is too much political posturing at local level. Too much energy is given over to political in-fighting rather than concentration on the needs of the rate-payer. Many of our local councillors appear to be playing “Westminster” – consequently a local election result is now considered to be a vote either for or against the Government.

Finally, remember that not all Liberal candidates are  vegetarian lecturers or white-collar public-sector workers. Not all conservatives are  barristers, middle-managers or skinheads and not all Labour candidates are teachers, media people or union members.

The Liberal Fire


In six short months, the Liberal party has completed the rocky journey from a small but effective band of highly-principled Westminster guerrillas to a motley collection of low-impact politicians which thinks that “principles” is a clothes shop and Parliamentary “tactics” are a type of House of Commons mint.

Last night, their Leader Nick Clegg (whose speech delivery appears have morphed into that of a Cof E country vicar)delivered a well-rehearsed soundbite by his appeal to all Liberal MPs to “walk through the fire together”. Well, there is no doubt that they will be walking into it but there’s no guarantee that they will emerge “unsinged”at the other end. 

Nick Clegg’s lack of foresight and total absence of strategic thinking probably means that after the next General Election, the Liberal Party will disappear from the political landscape. Oblivion beckons.

None of us can forget the pre-election  theatre when Liberal MPs were schlepping round university campuses garnering student  votes under what now transpires to have been false pretences (see photo above). At the time, neither the students nor the general voter viewed the Liberals’ actions with any suspicion or cynicism. After all, wasn’t it their Head Rottweiler, Norman Baker MP who had asked the very first Parliamentary question about MPs’ expenses. They were obviously an honest party who could be trusted – not like ” the rest of them”.

Our collective cynicism towards politicians was gradually ebbing away until that day in May when the Liberals signed a political HP agreement  with the Conservatives and left their principles as a down-payment.

In theory there is nothing at all wrong with raising student fees – although, as the country (and the poor) become poorer,  the timing may be seen as somewhat suspect. However, once you promise something to the current and future electorates – especially something as politically-sensitive as student fees, you should fight tooth and nail to retain it, together with your beliefs. You do not roll over and have your face fanned by a Ministerial Jag “extras” catalogue while your new security man massages your ego.

Clegg still does not realise that he and his party are not being berated for agreeing to raise university fees. This is not about winning or losing a vote. It is not about fees.

This is far more serious. It is about the credibility of what once was a great parliamentary party.

When the vote is passed, Clegg will have scored the mother and father of all Pyrrhic victories. He will be able to justify an increase in fees because that’s the easy part.

How will he explain the jettisoning of Liberal principles?

Julian Assange

One of the great talents of the CIA is the ability to destroy the reputation of anyone who crosses Uncle Sam. Look out for more women coming forward with anti-Assange claims. The CIA  will be busying themselves  engineering a “freedom-for-silence”deal with Assange. Even though only about 10,000 out of a possible 250,000 documents have so far found their way onto Wikileaks, the ” information genie”  is well-and-truly out of the bottle.

Meanwhile, let us hope that Assange is not involved in any fatal car crashes, illnesses or suicides.  However, if he really is a rapist, bang him up.

Al-Megrahi Lives!

A point of order on the continuing survival of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber. Eighteen months ago, he was given only three months to live and was released by the Scottish authorities on compassionate grounds. 

In spite of all the claims and counter claims about Gaddafi- threats to the United Kingdom and the evidence disclosed by Wikileaks of  “harsh and immediate action”  by Libya if al-Megrahi died in a Scottish prison, we can be sure of one thing.

Had Megrahi remained in the care of the National Health Service, he would be dead by now.

Chancellor’s Folly

Ken Clarke, the Lord Chancellor seems very keen on releasing prisoners, so here’s an idea which I am sure would be very popular at Westminster.

Build a large hostel in SW1 – somewhere near the palace of Westminster so that all freed criminals would  have somewhere to live on their release.

There would be several advantages to such a scheme.

Firstly, the authorities would know where all the lags were lodging with the added bonus that living among politicians, they would immediately blend in and feel at home..

CWU – An Assisted Suicide.


The modern face of Royal Mail

So the Royal Mail strike is on. It has been booked to continue for only two days but the fallout will last for the next few weeks. The Royal Mail system will not suddenly right itself after two days of inactivity. Letters, people, vans and parcels will not magically materialise at the depot where they are supposed to be. Continue reading CWU – An Assisted Suicide.