If you were an angry trucker and had a choice of government department outside which to park your diesel-powered 16-wheeled monster, where would you choose? Transport, and aim your catcalls at junior John Reid, the transport minister, or Her Majesty’s Treasury and Gordon Brown?
And if you were a pensioner where would you go to praise and applaud the government for its latest winter supplement? Of two Scotsmen, would you really pick Alasdair Darling at the department of social security over Mr Brown?
And if, God forbid, you were an angry accountant concerned about the latest small business initiative or financial reporting rules or how to define ‘development’ for the purposes of the new tax reliefs, would your Whitehall port of call really be the DTI rather than the Treasury?
That the Treasury is paramount in the Blair government’s policy making is hard to deny. Stephen Byers is – it’s commonly said – doing a good job given the circumstances in which he took over the DTI from Peter Mandelson.
But he’s in the same position as most of his colleagues in the mainstream departments: they take their cues from the chancellor.
Gordon Brown’s Budget speech proved the point, as he roved freely over transport as well as trade, pensions as well as price supports. Within days Whitehall was buzzing with the rumour that the Treasury was thinking over some heavy M&A action, perhaps taking over the entire department of social security.
Over at the Cabinet Office, ostensibly in charge of modernising government and all that (White Paper due just before Easter), no one knows quite what to make of the Treasury’s ‘public service agreements’ which lay down performance targets for other departments (including the Cabinet Office).
You could, if you were malevolent, paint a picture of a government dominated by the chancellor, deputy prime minister in all but name (and snorkelling in the Indian Ocean isn’t much of a way for the real holder of that office to make a mark). But, since the departure of Charlie Whelan from the chancellor’s office, there’s no-one with that sort of malevolence. So no-one within the tent is heard crowing at the chancellor’s dominance. That doesn’t stop it being any less true, however.
David Walker writes for the Guardian
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