View from the House – David Walker

A mistake business people often make is applying corporate models to political life. They may be encouraged by politicians, especially the Blairites , who think business people make good imports into politics, but they are wrong none the less.

Take the mid-summer reshuffle. Its significance wasn’t that it featured only the second rankers and small fry, but how little relationship the movements around the board bear to this government’s strategic purposes and priorities.

Tony Blair’s government is no different from its predecessors, including the allegedly consistent and single-minded Margaret Thatcher’s. When push comes to re-shove, personalities and party palliatives are more important than rational administration or policy delivery.

Take the movements around Whitehall departments concerned with business.

In mid-Bill (and the Treasury’s financial services legislation will be heavily fought over in the Commons) one of the Treasury’s prime movers, Patricia Hewitt, has moved to the DTI. It is billed as promotion. Yet the DTI looks like a dumping ground for Helen Liddell. Her passage from the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions looks like a demotion: from the dazzling heights of the Treasury via Scotland to defending Labour’s non-policies for transport and now to minister of energy and competitiveness in Europe – not a natural sounding portfolio.

New DTI trade minister, Richard Caborn, had at least been chairman of the Commons’ specialist trade committee, though it’s clear he is going to spend some time opposing the regional planning ideas he was propagating while at John Prescott’s side.

Where is any sense of the Blair government’s direction and strategy? Does e-commerce (to which Hewitt has gone) really matter more than financial services regulation (which is left for Melanie Johnson, a backbench novice)?

Blair, it seems, isn’t a chief executive or a chairman and does not have the nous or courage to appoint such a figure to keep an eye on the boat’s direction.

He’s an ordinary politician in his first term, whose vessel has started to drift.

David Walker writes for the Guardian.

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