It’s official: Philip Hammond is the new Defence Secretary and it’s a wise choice.
The tough work: making the cuts, axing Nimrod, leaving the east coast undefended etc.: has been done. I doubt Cameron would have been able to get that little lot past his party as easily had it not
been done by Liam Fox.
Now, the task is implementation. It requires mastery of detail and a sharp eye for financial irregularities, and Philip Hammond is the man for that. As Osborne’s number two in Opposition, he will,
like Des Browne, approach defence from the perspective of fiscal management. The future of Trident is less assured: Hammond will not threaten to quit over its abolition (as Fox quietly did in
Opposition). And I’m not sure if Hammond would lobby as hard for an MoD budget increase after 2015: something that would have to start in 2012.
Hammond has little interest in defence or foreign policy, but I suspect Cameron has had quite enough of ministers with their own ideas of Britain’s place in the world. Hammond is an Alistair
Darling figure: reassuringly boring. As Darling showed, that can be an attribute sometimes. As for the military, Cameron will deal with Richards direct; that’s the way defence is run nowadays. So
Hammond’s lack of experience (or obvious interest) doesn’t matter as much as you’d think.
Hammond will be missed by the Department of Transport, which is far more active than you might imagine: hideously complex and trying to digest massive cuts. There was a strong case for leaving him
where he was just to ensure that the DoT stays dull, because, as Stephen Byers found out, it has plenty of capacity to detonate. So, good luck to Justine Greening, the new Transport
Secretary. She’ll need it.