Friday, January 09, 2009

"The Best Front-Bench Team in British Politics"

Er, well, it may not be up against particularly strong competition, but even his closest supporters might find Nick Clegg's boast about his new front-bench team a little over the top. The Lib Dem reshuffle keeps the party's one bona fide star - Vince Cable - in place to continue leading the charge on the economy, but as for the others, it's a moot point as to what their impact is, and how much anyone really cares. So Susan Kramer, who has a higher profile than most, is actually stepping down from the Lib Dem front bench to lead the campaign against the expansion of Heathrow. She's replaced by Jenny Willott. Meanwhile, in news that is rocking the UK, David Heath, who dramatically quit the front bench last year, is now back again, shadowing the leader of the Commons. And David Howarth has just become the Justice Spokesman. You see? Not exactly household names. If I told you that Rodney Rogers had taken on the social affairs portfolio, and Juliette Sandelshoe was the new education spokesman, you might be quite happy to accept the news without demur, until you were told that they were just made-up names. Nick Clegg's problem is that he lacks a range of well-known supporting acts, other than Vince, and anyway we don't really care because we know the Lib Dems won't be anywhere near government after the next election.

Of course, it could be argued that David Cameron has a similar problem, and it is far more serious in his case because he is at least meant to be leading the official Opposition, and they are meant to be getting ready for government. He is concerned - as are his strategists - that he is looking too much like a one man band himself. Hence the talk earlier this week about bringing Ken Clarke back to the front bench. They want a big hitter, and with William Hague's profile increasingly compromised by his outside interests some of Team Cameron think Clarke might be a good idea. He isn't in fact. His own outside interests would be a nightmare, and it really is an admission of failure to bring back someone who first came into government in 1974, left it in 1997, and would be unlikely to want to shadow a post (Chancellor) that he has already held in government. No, Cameron needs to try and lift the profile of some of his current shadow cabinet, but who to pick? Alan Duncan is liked and has a good media presence, but is coming under attack from such Tory sources as the Telegraph; George Osborne is regarded with deep suspicion by the wider public and is probably too public-school; Dominic Grieve is very effective but lacks charisma; Caroline Spelman is a busted flush whatever the report says about her use of taxpayers' money to fund her children's nanny; Liam Fox has virtually disappeared beneath the radar. Interestingly, two down to earth, work-horse front benchers, Chris Grayling and Eric Pickles, have topped the Conservative Home poll this month of popular shadow cabinet ministers amongst Tory activists. Perhaps that's who Cameron should be pushing?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You forgot Bob Roberts. As usual.