Many years ago, when the Conservatives were in their last years in office, the then government were hit by several scandals and/or acts of incompetence which had people up in arms and the media and, yes, the Labour front bench demanding that those concerned should be sacked. There then followed the time-honoured refusal to see the seriousness of the situation, followed by a refusal to walk the planks, followed by the inevitable. This in itself – the high drama being drawn-out over a length of time – helped cause much damage for the Conservatives.
In one or two cases we have seen this happen to Labour, although we have been both fair and quick in most cases in dealing with the situation. How Gordon Brown deals with a reshuffle after Thursday, then, is crucial and highly important to the future of the government and the Labour Party remaining a main force in British politics.
Some of what has been discussed as a result of the expenses fiasco has involved talk of constitutional reform and once again AV and PR have been mentioned. This time, however, if the opinion polls released on Tuesday morning have anything to go by, there seems to be heavy support for this from the general public. A sure sign if needed, on how much the issue of MPs’ expenses has changed the face of British politics.
However, we need much more than talk of constitutional reform – that’s the easy part and whatever is decided it is likely that the next general election will still take place under First Past The Post, where, as Alex Hilton put it recently on LabourHome:
“Of 646 MPs, about 450 are in “safe” seats where they say a monkey could get elected in the right colour rosette. Well the problem is that too many monkeys got elected and we have an embedded culture of unaccountability.”
Perhaps then, the best thing to do is to show that we are serious about change. Yes we have done some things already. Margaret Moran is standing down in Luton South, David Chaytor is also standing down, as is Elliot Morley, in situations where they are hardly leaving under bright sunshine in spite of the fantastic weather we have been having lately. Not only that, but Morley and Chaytor have also been suspended. But what about the perception that frontbenchers on all sides are being protected?
This isn’t just about Alistair Darling. What about Geoff Hoon claiming expenses on his second home whilst renting out his London home? What about Hazel Blears and her home flipping? What about Margaret Beckett who, unless the latest news has gone under the radar, has refused to repay £72,000 of the controversial second home allowance alloted to her and who then had the gall to not only defend her miserable actions on Question Time, but to proceeded to patronize the audience for criticising her actions?
It would be no bad thing if on Friday morning, Gordon Brown conducted one of the most wide ranging and devastating cabinet reshuffles since Macmillan’s Night of the Long Knives in 1962. Some of those involved, such as Geoff Hoon, have never been popular with the public, or indeed have been careerists, such as Margaret Beckett, who was once soft on Millitant until it was no longer a popular proposition.
Usually such a reshuffle would be politically dangerous, but we are in extraordinary times and we need to show the public that we are in tune as a Party with their moods and what needs to be done. Such a reshuffle would not only be courageous, it would have some public support and would be a much needed morale boost to the Labour Party. It would also leave the glare of the spotlight on the Shadow Cabinet and questions could then be concentrated on Cameron and his team and where they are found wanting.