Straw, Blunkett, Clarke, Reid, Smith and now Johnson…

It has been a fascinating few days in politics. Now, in the last months of Labour government, what is the government’s strategy (if they have one) regarding matters of civil liberty? Gordon Brown has always been torn on matters of liberalism and authoritarianism. The departure of Blears and Smith means that they join, on the backbenches, a number of former minister who share their instinctive nannying. How that leaves Brown and the new cabinet is another matter.

Alan Johnson is deservedly popular, and possess a charm which many of his predessors lacked or studioulsy avoided. His move to the Home Office is politically important, for it stops any possibility of a cabinet coup against Brown in the immediate future.

It is unlikely that his move to the Home Office is based on principle rather than politics. That said, he will want to make a statement of intent in his new post. This is likely to concern the poisoned chalice of all recent Home Secretaries – ID cards. It will be interesting to see if he can breath new life into this disastrous policy. And he will surely be watched closely (as a PM or Labour leader in waiting) if he has a broader, more imaginative vision for criminal justice, anti-terrorism and surveillance than his predessors. If he had something new to say (rather than the string of cliches and risk-averse platitudes associated with other ministers) he would immediately mark himself out as a potential leader capable of reinvigorating New Labour after years of drift and confusion about civil liberties. This would appeal to those on the left who have despaired of Labour’s draconian policies.

Or will it be more of the same? As the election approaches the government will be tempted to flail its fists and generate some vestiges of popularity by looking tough on law’n’order and terrorism (etc etc). Will Johnson be statesmanlike enough to resist this temptation? Is the future of Labour as a political party to be centred around toughness and respect? Or will it in opposition do what all opposition parties do and rise up the cry of civil liberties against the government? What Johnson does in this department will be important in positioning the party for opposition, perhaps more than any other ministry.

For sure, the Home Office has been the place of political graves in recent years (when was the last time a former home secretary became PM?). Can Johnson turn it into the base for a revival in Labour’s political fortunes? He would gain a lot of political advantage, but it would be one hell of a gamble to toy with liberalism at this late stage. I’m not holding my breath.



(The answer to the question about the last Home Secretary who later became Prime Minister is Jim Callaghan; before him were Churchill (who held the post 30 years before he became PM),  Asquith, Palmerston, Russell, Melbourne, Peel, Liverpool, Portland, Grenville and Shelburne. (North, Sidmouth and Wellington held the post after they had served as Prime Minister.) Of the eleven who made the transition, five held the post before the Great Reform Act (1832) and ten before the introduction of universal suffrage. It is not a good post, therefore, for anyone to hold if they want the top job.)


1 Response to “Reshuffle”

  1. 1 Read Full Article June 3, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    Terrific Site, Maintain the wonderful work. thnx.

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