Our new Foreign Secretary
(By the by, reading the otherwise perfectly decent New York Times coverage of the reshuffle, something struck me. When referring to that infamous WWII incident, I spell it Pearl Harbor, without a "u", because it's an American territory and that's how Americans mistakenly spell it. So why is it that the New York Times, which prides itself on being accurate and all that, insists on spelling the Labour party's name without a "u"? It just looks stupid, as well as simply being wrong. I don't go around calling the Republicans the Repubicans, do I?)
More buried news (an ideal day this - keep an eye out, people): BBC - No charges follow Menezes 'leak'
"No one is to face charges over the alleged leaking of confidential papers from the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting inquiry, it has emerged.(Hat tip to Cedalion) Keep an eye on The Government Says and delightfully Orwellian-sounding Government News Network...
Update: Here we go - the Insolvency Service has published the figures for the last quarter: up 7.6% on the last quarter, and 17% on the same period last year. That's 1,428 compulsory liquidations, 2,011 voluntary liquidations, and 23,351 individual insolvencies. So much for Labour's safe pair of hands on the economic tiller, eh? (Update 2: Maybe I read that wrong - the BBC says this is a 73% rise...
(This post will be continuously updated as details emerge)
Clarke's lost the Home Office (possible yay, depending on who replaces him), Straw's lost the Foreign Office (why?).
Only announcement of an appoiintment so far makes no sense. The Blair government's relations with the EU have been an abject disaster over the last few years. They titted up the UK EU presidency, failing to get any substantive agreements through. Blair's close personal relationship with Silvio Berlusconi means he's screwed our relations with Italy under the new Prodi government. He failed to get close enough to Angela Merkel, meaning that the UK hasn't been able to capitalise on the potential shift in the France/Germany EU axis. For the last six months, the UK's done effectively bugger all in Brussels.
To revitalise our relationship with our EU cousins across the water, there needs to be a serious overhaul and rethink. A change of Europe minister could make sense (although Douglas Alexander has hardly been given much of a chance to make an impact since taking over from Dennis MacShane after the General Election last year.
What is needed for the Europe brief is someone charismatic, intelligent, and capable of thinking quickly on their feet in the volatile and still-shifting world of intra-EU politics.
So they've opted for Geoff Hoon, one of the least competent Defence Secretaries this country's had the misfortune to see. An intellectual nonentity. Someone guaranteed to fail dismally at forging the kinds of close partnerships the UK desperately needs to ensure a decent EU budget deal in the face of ongoing French stubborness.
Depending on who the new Foreign Secretary is, this looks almost like Blair's decided he simply couldn't care less about our interational relations any more. What the hell is he playing at?
Update 1: Guido is reporting Margaret Beckett to be Foreign Secretary. The woman who's titted up the distribution of EU Common Agricultural Policy subsidies to UK farmers, thus massively increasing resentment of the Brussels system amongst rural communities. Hardly someone to build bridges on the continent.
There's also the fact that, since her brief stint as leader of the Labour party after John Smith's death, she's hardly had much of a presence on the international stage. She's a past-it nonentity, who's shown little ability even to run a minor department over the last few years, let alone a brief as vital and wide-ranging as the Foreign Office. Has Blair finally lost ALL his political sense?
Guido also reports rumours of John Reid to be Home Secretary. The one member of the cabinet likely to be even more of an authoritarian bastard than Clarke. Hurrah.
Update 2: ePolitix seems to be updating with the latest announcements fairly coherently.
Beckett and Reid's promotions are confirmed (both potentially disastrous - for our international relations and internal liberties respectively).
Hazel Blears has replaced Ian McCartney as party chairman - so where's he off to? Duchy of Lancaster? The appointments are making no sense whatsoever at the moment (especially Jack Straw's demotion), so God alone knows...
Des Browne gets Defence - with his background in Child Law, he's obviously ideal to handle the logistics of maintaining troops in two incredibly hostile foreign warzones...
Prescott, meanwhile, retains his title but loses all his responsibilities.
Update 3: A Labour member (and reluctant Labour voter) writes:
This isn't a reshuffle, it's a death rattle.
Prescott DPM, but with no portfolio? Disastrous. An absolute mess that will appear to make no sense whatsoever, and keeps the story going.
Sacking Clarke? Right thing to do, everyone expecting it. Apart from, it seems, Clarke. He should keep his mouth shut about supporting Blair for the full parliamentary term. He's clearly angling to be the anti-Brown, but hasn't realised exactly how unpopular he really is in the party and the country.
Beckett as Foreign Secretary? Disastrous. Looks like there's no new talent to be promoted. Only superficially seems a safe pair of hands because no-one (honourable mention for the Private Eye) has bothered reporting the disaster that is DEFRA.
Straw demoted? Silly. Repeating the Robin Cook mistake. He's one of the few actually competent ministers left in the front ranks of the Labour Party. He'll be quite good, in that he's efficient, but he won't have time to do anything important.
Reid at Home Office? A fire-fighter, who can be relied on to make the best of a terrible situation. Might not be so easily cowed by his senior civil servants, although that's probably wishful-thinking on my part. Let's face it, we're not going to get a liberal in the Home Office while Blair's First Lord of the Treasury.
Hoon as SoS for Europe? Meh, the most important thing is it's cabinet rank. Hang on though - is this a new department of state, separate from the FCO, like DFID? Does this mean Beckett's only got half a job? What's going on?
Where the hell is the new blood?
Update 4: Ignore what I said earlier, ePolitix is rubbish. The Guardian's roundup is much better.
Charlie "flatmate" Falconer's gone to Leader of the Lords, helping to advance the abolition of the post of Lord Chancellor. There still remain a lot of question-marks, however - in particular how well thought-out the new Foreign Office situation is, what's happened to Douglas Alexander, and what did Jack Straw do to piss Tony off?
Update 5: More good stuff (as always) from the BBC - though still not comprehensive.
Douglas Alexander apparently going to Transport. I'm not at all convinced that Alan Johnson is the right person for the Education brief. Ruth Kelly's had a new local government position created for her, taking over Prezza's old responsibilities. Don't like her at all... Alistair Darling looks like a shifty low-rent lounge singer from a tacky imitation of a Vegas bar, but gets Trade.
Miliband gets to take over Margaret Beckett's mess at DEFRA. Meaning another £6,000 will have to be spent moving his blog over to the new department only a few weeks after he started it...
Inexplicably, Patty Hewitt and Tessa Jowell have both retained their jobs, despite all the scandals and screw-ups of recent weeks. Perhaps Tony simply ran out of people loyal enough to promote?
My precious, precious vote (etc.)
Well, after much soul-searching, reading of election materials and manifestoes, and - basically - a process of elimination based on a combination of local issues and the cut of the candidates' various jibs, I've just voted (missing the deadline by only half an hour).
Because I was voting for candidates' personal track records (as I always do) I've opted for the representatives of three different parties out of the four on offer. Two of which, it must be said, I had to deliberate long and hard over, as on a national level I disagree with a number of their respective parties' central policies. But such is politics.
(Guesses as to the three lucky parties, if anyone cares, in the comments... the Conservatives, Greens, Labour and Lib Dems were the ones I had a choice between, to help you out, but bear in mind that national issues affected my vote not a jot. I'm an arse like that.)
More bad news buried on election day. Following the NHS's "best year ever" claims, today it has been announced that 200 jobs are to go at St Richard's Hospital in Chichester, West Sussex; 95 jobs are to go at Birmingham Women's Hospital; every family planning centre could be forced to close in Lincolnshire; and there is an £8 million budget gap at Torbay hospital in Devon.
Crisis? What crisis?
Today's elections mean it's a good time to bury stories, and as such, details of the government's amendments to the Legislative and Regultory Reform (Abolition of Parliament) Bill have trickled out of the Cabinet Office. The full text of the amendments can be found here (.pdf) - they are most likely worthy of close examination...
Associated Newspapers give the Tories a handy freebie
Today, the day of the local elections, the Metro newspaper - a freebie given out to commuters every weekday morning in around 15 major cities, including London, Manchester and Birmingham - handed the Tories between £11,000 and £16,000 worth of free advertising (ratecard .pdf) with what was effectively a half-page advertorial.
Although it's no major surprise that right-leaning Associated Newspapers, who own the Metro along with the Daily Mail and Evening Standard, should have a bit of a pro-Tory agenda, to suddently turn over the "60 second interview" feature - normally the preserve of D-list celebs desperately plugging their latest product - to a softball Q&A with the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition (also D-list, but still) is, on the day of an election and with no equivalent space given to the leaders of the other parties, surely a tad off?
In a seemingly pre-arranged series of at first glance semi-tough questions ("Your strategy of saying nothing while waiting for New Labour to implode appears to be working" being the first - the inclusion of "New" before "Labour" pointing out to people that the red party is no longer the same as it once was), Cameron is effectively given half a page to pitch his party exactly as he pleases.
Generalised questions about the difference between Tory and Labour Councils - a nonsense, as on a local level there is effectively no overriding ethos for any party - are followed by gifts along the lines of "are you getting some panniers for your bike?", allowing Cameron to diffuse the mini-scandal of his chauffer following him to work from last week.
But the real clincher? The final question - smacking of the old days of the utterly deferential royal interview of "Is there anything else you'd like to say, Ma'am?" - "What message do you have for Metro readers?"
A half page's advertising (wth colour photo and handy blue branding) in the Metro would have cost any other party £11,328.80 for London alone, £15,589 for all 15 cities. I wonder if this gift is going to be declared to the appropriate authorities?
(The interview may appear here at some point.)
A deportation inanity, pot/kettle name-calling, and local elections quickie
It's a real shame that Australia's no longer simply a prison colony - it'd solve so many problems. Perhaps they could convert part of the Outer Hebrides instead? (I wouldn't put it past them, actually...)
As it is, we're now apparently planning on deporting people to pretty much anywhere that'll take them, whether the deportation is deserved or not, and whether they have any connection to the country to which they are going to be deported or not.
But hey - as long as the Daily Mail's happy, who cares, right?
In other news, at PMQs today,
"Mr Blair accused Mr Cameron of using a 'prearranged soundbite'."
For Christ's sake - grow up, you pathetic bunch of morons.
Not a single party deserves either your vote or mine. I've read dozens of election pamphlets over the last few weeks - the only difference has been the colour-scheme. It looks like I'll either be spoiling my ballot paper or not voting in an election for which I'm eligible for the first time since I hit 18.
The Sharpener's not dead - it was only resting...
It is, however, now back - so pop over and give us some encouragement / praise for finally getting our arses in gear and reviving the bloody thing. Expect more posts throughout the week of a rather better quality than that relaunch one by yours truly...
Update: In other long-overdue news, Berlusconi's FINALLY resigned! Hurrah!
Why is it just Prescott and Clarke who are still in trouble? However did Hewitt manage to get out of the firing line? (Oh, and nice avoidance of "Punch and Judy politics" by David Cameron there, calling John Prescott a fool...)