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Small Reshuffle in Britain; Not Many Dead

7 October 2013

2:56 PM

7 October 2013

2:56 PM

First things first: a reshuffle in which only one cabinet minister is sacked redeployed is a reshuffle in name only. It means the action – if you can call it that – is confined to the replacement of ministers of whom most of you have never heard with other MPs of whom you are most likely equally ignorant.

A day of low drama in Westminster then.

Secondly, ejecting Michael Moore from the Scotland Office is not, I think, a reflection on his performance. If he was an accidental Secretary of State whose elevation to the cabinet was the result of David Laws’ disgrace, Moore still carried out his duties diligently – a very Michael Moore word, by the way – and without fuss or drama.

Alistair Carmichael will, we are told, bring a more combative approach to the Scotland Office. Well, we shall see. But he is still a Scottish Liberal Democrat. They don’t do Rottweiler. His promotion, I fancy, owes much to Nick Clegg’s desire to reward Carmichael’s years of service in the thankless task of persuading Lib Dem backbenchers to vote in favour of policies pursued by a government formed, in part, by the Liberal Democrats. This has been harder than you might think and tougher than it should have been.

And since Clegg, Vince Cable and Danny Alexander cannot be moved that meant poor old Michael Moore was for the chop. So be it. Nonetheless, it is worth observing that being eminently and obviously reasonable helped Moore be a quietly successful Scottish Secretary. He acted as a fire blanket, suffocating nationalist grievance. The independence referendum is, at least in part, a contest in which both sides are determined to seem more reasonable than the other. Moore was rather good at that. He did not make the kinds of gaffe – often seen from the likes of Hammond and Osborne – that gave the nationalists an opening or an opportunity to complain that the coalition government was trussing Scotland up in a sado-masochistic gimp suit.

Not, perhaps, the greatest political epitaph but there have been worse ones, you know.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Lib Dem Land one can only assume that replacing Jeremy Browne with conspiracy-theorist Norman Baker is some kind of Cleggian attempt at humour. Memo to Baker: David Kelly was not murdered.

But it is also, perhaps, a revealing moment. Browne, after all, seemed to quite enjoy being in government and that, if nothing else, marks him out from most of his colleagues. His departure is, then, another signal that at the next general election the Lib Dems intend to run away from their record. They may feel this makes sense or that they have no alternative but it is still a foolish choice. Why vote for a party ashamed of its record in office? People of Britain: lend us your protest votes against the government of which we were a part! I am sure that will work. (They tried this in Scotland in 2011. Results were unimpressive.)

Look at what we stopped! is a thin and contemptible little slogan much less impressive or effective than Look at what we did! Unless, that is, you secretly suspect your voters are not interested in power at all and, indeed, find the whole experience disagreeably distasteful.

Which, in the end, sends the message that the party is neither fit for office nor worthy of the great political tradition of which it is notionally the inheritor and guardian. But, I suppose, that’s their choice.


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