Friday, 5 June 2009

A sustainable reshuffle?

The big challenge of the reshuffle is its sustainability. It is certainly better for keeping Alastair Darling at the Treasury and promoting Alan Johnson to the Home Office. I am sceptical of the Sir Alan Sugar promotion, and fear it may be as lasting as that of Digby Jones, though it brings star quality to the line-up.

But it is weakened by keeping Ed Balls at schools - where the Department has drifted under his leadership with its attempts to cover the gamut of children's policy at the expense of schools - and by the hugely important loss of some excellent ministers including James Purnell, John Hutton and Beverley Hughes (the children's minister).

The fact that several of those identified as Blairites retain positions of power helps, with Andy Burnham promoted to health. But I do wonder whether Barry Sheerman was not right in offering Gordon Brown a way settling the leadership question once and for all. Without a vote of confidence from his MPs, the doubts may simply remain.

A reshuffle is not enough of itself. The Government now needs to show vision, strategy and a sense of purpose over the next ten months. This is important not just on the economy and democratic reform, but across the public services. If Ed Balls is staying at schools, he needs to stop allowing the Tories to wrap themselves in the mantle of Labour academies. Andy Burnham has some genuine dividing lines with the Tories on health, and it is vital that Yvette Cooper doesn't allow the excellent work of James Purnell at work and pensions to drift. There must also be renewed vigour from Alan Johnson at the Home Office on crime and policing. There must also be some candour on public expenditure.

Most ministers have decided to stick with Gordon Brown, and it is highly unlikely that there will be any change at the top between now and the general election. Every minister has a clear duty to show why it matters that Labour is in power - and what the tough decisions are that need to be made. That is their challenge for the months ahead. The future of the Labour Party is in their hands.

A version of this appears on the Progress website.

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