Friday, 21 January 2011

Resignation, resignation...a question of judgement!

Resignation, resignation....well, only two so far, but Baroness Warsi's consistently pathetic performances, and David Cameron's less than supportive language over her speech on Islamophobia, might yet force her to step down. Whilst Mr. Cameron deserves credit for wanting to promote diversity within the Conservative Party, the promotion of a failed parliamentary candidate, wasn't the right person for such an important symbol.

However, that is something for the future, and will probably pass by almost unnoticed in the wake of the last twenty-four hour's events.Firstly, the resignation of Alan Johnson as Labour's Shadow Chancellor, and secondly that of Andy Coulson as David Cameron's Director of Communications.

Although the circumstances surrounding both resignations are completely different, there are also similarities in the background, principally that of judgement. However, the long term effects could have different ramifications.

Alan Johnson's appointment as Shadow Chancellor by Ed Miliband came as a surprise to practically everybody. he admitted himself that his economic knowledge was lacking depth, though as a former health, education and especially Work and Pensions Secretary would have provided an understanding of economic matters.

The appointment of Alan Johnson was always more about politics than economics. He needed to make a senior appointment of a David Miliband supporter, as the Shadow Cabinet elections had put Ed Balls supporters into three of the top four places. However, there was nothing to stop him appointing Johnson as either Shadow Home or Foreign Secretary, both jobs he had done in reality.

The second political reason was Johnson's 'ordinary guy' persona, compared to George Osborne's privileged upbringing and his lack of understanding of, 'how ordinary people live,' as David Heath said. To a certain extent this worked as a tactic, but Alan Johnson's lack of detailed knowledge often caught him out.

However, in mitigation for Mr. Johnson, I suspect outside distractions prevented him from learning these details, as he was more than capable of grasping them. It is this that I believe brings Ed Miliband's judgement into question, in that Alan Johnson's family issues must have been known by then, and it would probably have been wiser to appoint him to a portfolio he was more familiar with.

The third political element, of course, is that in his early days as leader Ed Miliband possibly felt appointing either Ed Balls or Yvette Cooper as Shadow Chancellor, would create more immediate problems than solve them. As it was public differences between Mr. Miliband and Mr. Johnson on various polices did that anyway. However, I always find it amusing that disagreement and debate within the Labour Party are displayed as splits, whilst in other parties, as vigorous debate, which shows they are thrashing out ideas. If parties want clones, then leader's should just appoint those that agree with them.

So, Ed Balls now has the job he's always wanted (perhaps more then leader, which Yvette is probably better suited to), and the Tory response is predictable. But I'm not talking about that today, just to say, that his expertise in economic matters is indisputable, and George Osborne won't be able to get away with trying to throw it back at him by asking detailed questions on particular aspects of economics, such as the National Insurance rate..

The second big event has happened in just the last few hours, and that is the resignation of Andy Coulson as David Cameron's Director of Communications. This is principally over the allegations he has faced for the last few years, over phone hacking whilst he was editor at the News of the World.

As Mr. Coulson has constantly denied any knowledge, thereby showing he must have been a pretty awful editor, I will not comment on the legal situation which is an ongoing investigation. However, considering all the issues surrounding the hacking, for which former NOTW journalists are serving sentences and facing trials, it does bring David Cameron's judgement into question.

As I said earlier, if Andy Coulson didn't know about the hacking, he must have been a very bad editor, if he did, then it is obvious it would always come back to haunt him, with possible legal ramifications. Either way David Cameron's judgement failed, in that he either appointed someone not very good, or someone up to his ears in illegal activity. Both reflect very badly on David Cameron, and Coulson's resignation was deemed more important than Tony Blair's second appearance before the Chilcot Inquiry.

We, therefore, have two prominent resignations, both of which reflect negatively on the judgement of the main party leaders. So, who is most damaged, and is it long term?

Ed Miliband has only been leader for about 120 days, and can be expected to make misjudgements along the way, all leaders do. However, he now has the chance to put things right, and only time will tell us if he has managed that. Critics of him have said he's made plenty, but as they were carping from the moment he took over, their neutrality is doubtful. In recent weeks there has been a marked improvement, and the appointment of the Times' Tom Baldwin as his Communications Director seems to have helped.

The long term impact of Andy Coulson's resignation are, I believe, tied up in two things. Firstly, the outcome of all the legal proceedings, as if Coulson is ever convicted of an offence, that will come back to Mr. Cameron. The second is, that even if Mr. Coulson is cleared legally, is dependent on the performance of the coalition. If the economic recovery fails to be sustained, and/or if Cameron comes under increasing pressure from Conservatives opposed to the alliance with the Liberal Democrats, then it becomes a stick to beat him with. If the policies are seen to work, then it will become a footnote in history.

Similarly, Ed Miliband's performances as leader over the next few months, leading up to the May elections (and referendum?), will decide how important the whole Alan Johnson affair turns out to be. By the time of the party Conference in September (beginning exactly a year after Ed Miliband became leader), a good performance in the local elections, along with providing strong opposition (Ed Balls playing a major role here) will mean it is practically forgotten.

The twenty-four hour media cycle raises all these issues, and in order to fill space they are analysed ad infinitum. However, it is only in the longer term that the rue effects will be known, and I will watch it all unfold with great interest. In my personal opinion, I think it is David Cameron who will suffer the more negative impact in the end, because it will be part of a long list of misjudgements held against him.

As the economic situation in the medium term (it will take time for the long term picture to become clear) is not looking particularly rosy, as the cuts and VAT rise start to impact on people's lives, then the media will be very negative. The backbenchers in the Conservative Party are stirring, and have made threats, and because they are especially unhappy with the coalition agreement (which they see as having given too much to the Liberal Democrats), will use the Coulson situation to weaken David Cameron's position.

Labour's opponents who read this, if any, will no doubt point to Ed Balls, and David Miliband as those making similar moves, yet despite their yearnings, there is no evidence of that, whilst David Cameron's own troops have been publicly briefing against him, with the issue of Europe looming in the near future.

I'll finish there, but the situation for both leaders will be an evolving one, with no certainty of what will happen, we can only speculate.

1 comment:

  1. As ever well balanced and a sensible well thought out critique of the situation.