Conservative Diary

« National Conservative Convention chairman Jeremy Middleton analyses the state of the voluntary party | Main | Jeremy Middleton's proposals on how to regenerate the voluntary party »

There are more than 300 Conservative MPs. Isn't one of them up to the job of being Trade Minister?

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-08-20 at 08.43.01 Let's stand back from the non-appointment of David Rowland, the appointment of Leon Brittan, and the disappointment of Vince Cable and the Daily Mail at Sir Philip Green's new role, and consider the Prime Minister's main non-Ministerial appointments to date.  They fall, broadly, into three categories -

  • Special advisers attached to Government Departments and Secretaries of State.
  • Business people drafted in for the same reason, such as Rowland and Green, or Lord Browne in the Cabinet Office and Peter Levene, who's heading up part of the Defence review.
  • Left-of-centre politicians and writers brought in for special tasks, sometimes ex-Labour Ministers, such as Alan Milburn to advise on social mobility, John Hutton on public sector pensions, Frank Field on welfare, and - earlier - Will Hutton on public sector pay.

David Cameron's under fire for some of his appointments, but most of his critics have got it all the wrong way round.

  • He's not being criticised for his special adviser appointments...but he should be.  Not, I hasten to add, because of the names, but the number.  He's appointed too few.  Special advisers are indispensable to helping Ministers drive their strategy through Departments.  Counter-intuitively, most senior civil servants approve of them, at least in principle: they like Secretaries of State who have a sense of direction, and the political skills to undertake the journey successfully.  Special advisers help them to make it.  The Prime Minister cut back their number as part of his drive to cut the costs of politics.  But the savings are trivial and the price high: some Ministers have been left under-supported, and the Government's work is consequently hampered.
  • He's being criticised for his business people appointments...but, by and large, he shouldn't be.  Obviously, CCHQ should have carried out due diligence in the Rowland case - and, as Tim says, need a means of carrying it out in the future.  However, having business figures to advise government is basically a good thing: Levene, for example, is an old defence hand, and if Green can save taxpayers scores of billions his appointment will be worthwhile.  Tories shouldn't wander witlessly down the road that Gordon Brown took to endless tax avoidance clampdowns.  That there are two references to them in the Coalition Agreement reflects no credit on it.  Why don't such clampdowns work?  If Vince Cable wants even a small part of the answer, he should study the front page of this morning's Financial Times.
  • Not much has been said about the other appointments, but there's quite a lot to say, such as: there are too many such advisers.  If the subject's cross-departmental, such as social mobility, there's a case for bringing in someone like Milburn, both because the move disorientates Labour and because he's got some radical ideas.  And if you want political cover for long-term reform of public sector pensions, then send for John Hutton.  But the other Hutton appointment brings nothing of value.  Nor, sadly, does that of Frank Field: brilliant though he is, the Department of Work and Pensions already has Duncan Smith, Grayling (who shadowed the Department) and Steve Webb (who, whether you care for him or not, has plenty of welfare reform ideas), plus the Centre for Social Justice on call.  Too many cooks spoiled the welfare broth.  The same story might have been told at Defence had the Dannat appointment been followed through.
If the Prime Minister needs more advisers, what about a bit of balance?  As Douglas Carswell wrote recently, what about appointing some Conservatives who've actually been elected - Peter Lilley, John Redwood, Michael Fallon or, if someone's required from the left of the party, Stephen Dorrell?  Better still, stop appointing so many in the first place.  The Government needs a proper Trade Minister, not Leon Brittan (regardless of his record on the EU) as a six-month adviser stand-in.  There are more than 300 Conservative MPs.  Isn't one of them up to the job?


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.