The reshuffle looks to have put together a pretty good team. Only a few are worthy of comment.
Home affairs will make or break Nick Clegg’s reputation. It’s off his normal territory and gives him a chance to establish his grasp of domestic policy. But it is a high-risk appointment for someone who is widely regarded as a future leader. It will be tricky to thread a path between the Labour/Tory/tabloid ‘soft-on-crime’ jibes and the section of Lib Dem activists who will noisily object to anything that looks like pandering to the Daily Mail. And at the same time manage to make a positive impact in the role rather than trying not to make waves. I believe that Nick is bright and able enough to cope with the brickbats and make a good fist of this one.
I am disappointed that Sarah Teather is moving from the ODPM brief just as she was getting her teeth into it. I didn’t start out as a massive Teather fan, but clearly she learns quickly and looked set to do a very good job. I hope she will now sort out our education policy. Edward Davey probably didn’t get a long enough run at education and was left a peculiar legacy by Phil Willis – who was very knowledgeable and respected but too close to the teaching unions. But even with Davey in charge, the motion agreed at Harrogate last weekend was bizarre in endorsing choice in all aspects of schooling bar secondary transfer. Let’s hope Sarah now gets a decent period of time to master the brief and make in impact.
I can’t pretend to be pleased by Andrew Stunell’s appointment as ODPM spokesman. He struck me as a very good chief whip and should have been left there. Ming may be thinking that by giving us local government folk one of our own (Andrew is a former chief executive of ALDC) that will keep us happy and quiet. But actually, it would do councillors good to have someone who is more at the cutting edge of new thinking in the party to take us out of the comfort zone. Stunell strikes me as an effective political operator, but hardly the person to lead the intellectual debate on localism at a wider level than just within the party. Also we need someone to manage the retreat from regionalism. When I heard Huhne speak at the hustings, the best bits were on local government and if Teather had to move from ODPM, I would have preferred Huhne to replace her. Is this an important policy theme for Lib Dems or is it not?
Huhne should do well at environment. But whereas Norman Baker always gave the impression he would be happier out there on the Greenpeace boat or lying in front of the bulldozers, Huhne will, I hope, have the breadth of vision to see that environmental policies are part of a bigger picture. He will have the authority and credibility to make this a crucial role.
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