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Friday, October 03, 2008 

Reshuffling towards oblivion.

It's difficult to overstate just how desperate the cabinet reshuffle shows Gordon Brown as being. Desperate both to win the next election and desperate also to attempt to show that there really isn't any difference of opinion any longer between the Blairites and the Brownites. Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but the rehabilitation of Peter Mandelson, who for over a decade could not stand the sight of Brown, let alone work with him, was not the way to go about it.

This is not because Mandelson is
the uber-Blairite, that he was one of a whole bevy of habitual liars, that he, more than Alastair Campbell, helped to establish the current political culture of spin that has so demeaned politics in the eye of the public, but because he is simply the wrong man at the wrong time. Very few dispute that Mandelson as a minister was effective and good at what he did, whether he was at business, his old and new job, Northern Ireland or as European Commissioner, but there is one quote that more than ever suggests that this is not his moment. He, along with Blair, declared to the City that he and New Labour were "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich." Well, they did, while everyone else didn't, and now this is the man to spearhead Brown's new regulatory agenda. Jesus wept.

Brown's lack of new ideas could not be more summed up by this latest relaunch. It's almost as if it was 1997 again, just with Brown in Blair's position: we've got Derek Draper back advising, Alastair Campbell quite clearly helping out but doing so from the sidelines and Peter Mandelson, ennobled and in the cabinet. All we need is for Brown to bring back Lord Levy to glad-hand the business folk and it'll be as if we've gone back to the future. Nick Brown, the uber-Brownite to the Mandelson's uber-Blairite, is even back as chief whip. The problem with it is obvious: 1997 is long gone, and so are the benign circumstances of that year.

The counter to that argument has been the setting-up of the economic council, half-stuffed with somewhat sympathetic businessmen, but still those that got us into this mess, and the other half with the, err, politicians that got us into this mess. The disastrous appointment of Digby "sod the workers" Jones as the minister for trade, now to be the council's ambassador, hardly inspires confidence that this will be anything more than a talking shop where the most limited possible re-regulation will be rubber-stamped, all while sticking two fingers up at the PLP, just as Jones's initial appointment did.

If that wasn't rewarding failure enough, then Margaret Beckett's appointment as minister of state for housing is almost tragicomedy. Having presided over the cocking up of the CAP payments to farmers while head of DEFRA, whilst being easily the worst foreign secretary of Labour's reign, she will doubtless have much to offer just as the repossessions spiral out of control. John Hutton, who was reprising Mandelson's filthy rich line earlier in the year moves to defence, while Des Browne returns to the backbenches, quite possibly because like Ruth Kelly he intends to vote against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill when it comes back before the house. Kelly incidentally is standing down as an MP as well, probably because she knows full well the Tories will be taking her seat in any event.

Jon Cruddas, meanwhile, heavily tipped to take the housing job, apparently declined because Gordon was unwilling to countenance the council house building programme which Cruddas believes necessary. Downing Street has denied he was offered any job whatsoever, which ought to tell its own story.

Whilst the day's manoeuvrings do show just how desperate Brown is, they also prove that for now the attempts to overthrow him have been delayed, if not put entirely on ice. Whether it was because he did enough at the Labour conference or because of the financial meltdown earlier this week, which even prompted the Conservatives to come over all bi-partisan, is less clear. If the rumours that Hazel Blears and especially the female ministers in the cabinet were the ones moving to wield the knife, they still all remain except for Kelly, but have been undeniably weakened. The next big challenge is the Glenrothes by-election, which few still believe that Labour can hold. It may well come down to how big the defeat is that decides whether the move is back on, but no one can claim the Brown is anything other than further personally weakened by having to bring the old team back together.

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Think you may be wrong here. I think Gordon Brown has found his mojo.

By contrast the Conservatives look in a difficult position. Their big conference theme was "less regulation" - so they are seen to be on the wrong side of that debate.

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