GE2015 plus 04: time for a little spin

Posted: 11 May 2015 in general election 2015, politics
Tags: , ,

For once, I’m not talking about ‘spin’ as in ‘spin doctoring’, but the wondrous thing in British politics known as a cabinet reshuffle. (Well, I guess there’s that kind of spin doing the rounds as well, but…)

As usual, when it comes to reshuffles, the important appointments aren’t so much those left in place, particularly those left in place near the top of the greasy pole. In many ways, they’re the easiest decisions to make for a Prime Minister, since any move from one of the great offices of state would be seen not merely as a demotion, but the potential end of a political career. The only way around that is to spin the top three, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary, and some Prime Ministers have done that, a straight swap. 

Indeed, when James Callaghan resigned in 1967 after a devaluation that the Treasury had sworn blind wouldn’t happen, Wilson slotted Roy Jenkins into the Chancellor’s role and reshuffled Callaghan into Jenkins’ old job at the Home Office.

Small digression: Callaghan remains the only person in British history to have held all the three great Offices of State and also became Prime Minister. There’s been a few who held two of the three, most recently John Major who was both Chancellor and Foreign Secretary before ascending to the First Lord of the Treasury, which is one of the Prime Minister’s other job titles. But Callaghan did all three jobs. 

I’m reminded of something from Tales from the Cutting Room by Michael Cockerell about his encounters over the past few decades of his career as a political journalist with leading politicians. When he covered Jim Callaghan, Cockerell related a conversation he’d once had with Roy Jenkins, wherein Jenkins said about Callaghan (who hadn’t gone to University) that he’d never before come across such a powerful personality linked with such a lack of intellect. Jenkins, of course, was one of four University educated men that Callaghan had beaten to the Labour Leadership and the office of Prime Minister when he went for it in 1976. When Cockerell had quoted Jenkins to Callaghan, and said that the view was shared by others, the latter had laughed and then said “it’s true, although I think I was probably cleverer then they thought I was. Yes, I haven’t got a huge intellect. But then again, I became Prime Minister… and they didn’t.

I warmed a lot to Callaghan merely from that exchange.

Digression over. Anyway, notwithstanding the above, there are a couple of interesting of ‘staying in place’ examples, most notably Iain Duncan Smith remaining in post at DWP. But he’s been kept there as a message, that message being apparently “we won, we won, hahahahahahaha, we won, so we can do what we want to the benefits system and you can’t stop us hahahahahahaha.” I genuinely can’t think of any other reason to keep IDS at the Department of Work and Pensions. I’m not kidding either. Given the complete clusterfuck that he’s supervised… wait, ‘supervised’ is probably the wrong word; I don’t believe he’s supervised anything. He’s been not semi-detached from the process: he’s entirely detached to the point of delusion. Everything that’s occurred should be laid at his feet, sure, but he’s living proof of the Peter Principle.

Ugh. shudder

Let’s move onto something less unpleasant, and it’s a mark of how detestable is the idea of IDS staying at the Department that Gove taking over at The Justice Department is an even slightly better appointment. When I first heard of the appointment on social media, before it was officially confirmed, my first thought was that David Cameron had got hammered and hadn’t yet sobered up. Then the other appointments started coming through, and my view remains that it’s not those who are left in place that are the most important pieces of the message the Prime Minister wants to send, it’s the promotions, demotions and… erm… sideways-motions? Maybe they’re called ‘motions’ because the they end up shitting on the country.

Anyway, Gove turns the anomaly of appointing a non-lawyer as Lord Chancellor’s and head of the Justice Department into a convention that it doesn’t need to be a lawyer in the roles. I can’t express my disagreement firmly enough with this new policy. We’ve already had one person in that job who was so bad that during his tenure, the department was routinely found to have acted unlawfully. If a Prime Minister doesn’t care about that, he’s not fit to be Prime Minister. And the stupid appointments continued through Saturday and Sunday.

We now have a Culture Secretary who is hostile to the BBC licence fee. We have an Equalities Minister who voted against equal marriage and an employment minister who wants to bring back capital punishment.

Could it be worse? Yes, of course it could. Doesn’t meant that it’s not lousy now though.

I suppose I’d better mention the shadow cabinet reshuffle as well. There, I’ve mentioned it.

Oh, one other thing. Remember a while back, I wrote about how people are only too eager to believe an image as long as it suits their political purposes? How even when it’s proven false, somehow you’re at fault for correcting them? I offered examples such as a picture contrasting a full chamber of the House of Commons purporting to be MPs discussing their pay with a picture purporting to be an almost empty chamber discussing welfare cuts. Turned out to be nothing of the sort; both were of other Commons debates.

And there was a picture of the Prime Minister and George Osborne laughing, and some said it was during a debate about welfare reform. But it wasn’t.

And a Michael Gove quote from a piece written as a journalist before he was even an MP, let alone a Cabinet Minister was suffixed “Michael Gove, education minister”.

Well, here comes another one. This picture did the rounds on Sunday:


And of course – of course  – it was stated, not suggested, flat out stated, that this was champagne being delivered to David Cameron and George Osborne following the election win. Thankfully, Twitter corrected it fairly quickly: it was from 2012, and… no, wait, it was from 2008… except it wasn’t. It was from 2004, when the Prime Minister was Tony Blair and the Chancellor was Gordon Brown. Funny thing though; I just did a search on Twitter. Now, sure enough, there are the corrections out there, but the tweets saying it was this weekend? There are a lot of them; a lot of them, and some of them are from today. Again, who gives a damn about truth if the story fits the narrative.

In the great movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a US Senator returning to a town to bury a friend reveals to a journalist that it wasn’t in fact the Senator who shot the outlaw years ago; it was the friend, but the Senator received the credit and it kickstarted his political career. When he finishes the tale, the journalist throws his notes in the fire:

Senator Stoddard: You’re not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?

Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

I don’t think it was intended as a recommendation, but people seem to have taken it as such so many times, and never more than when it comes to ascribing crassness or malice towards political opponents. I miss the time (that never existed, of course) when people were that, political opponents, not the enemy.

  1. Enlight_bystand says:

    Your comment on the Shadow Cabinet reminded me to go & have a look at who was filling the significant gaps last week left in it – Chris Leslie as Shadow Chancellor? I know it’s only until autumn when the new leader gets in place, but really?

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