Friday, 20 July 2007

The Carpenters

I resisted the temptation to make any predictions on the shape of the cabinet which Morgan and Jones (Carpenters to the Gentry) would produce, so I can’t say “I told you so”. But I can comment with all the benefit which hindsight endows upon us.

Of the two men, Morgan had the easiest decision to make – who to sack. He only had to get rid of one person; the only question was who. If one assumes that he had already made his judgement about who he wanted in the Cabinet, and who he was only prepared to make junior ministers, then it was always more likely that it would be a junior minister rather than a cabinet minister who went.

That left him with a choice of four – Gwenda Thomas, John Griffiths, Leighton Andrews, or Huw Lewis. Huw Lewis clearly believes that he has been sacked for opposing the coalition with Plaid. That may well have played a part; but the reasons for sackings and promotions in politics are rarely the obvious ones.

Jones, on the other hand, had a much harder task – which three of his colleagues to make ministers (and, by definition, therefore, which 10 to leave on the back benches). Given that one of the briefs handed to Plaid was Rural Affairs, the choice of Elin Jones was an obvious one – it is a brief which she has mastered well in opposition, and there can be few who would doubt her ability to perform well in the role. The others are, perhaps, less obvious choices.

However, what interests Ceredig is not so much who has been appointed, but the reasoning behind it; for this is anything but a normal appointment process as understood by most of we humble wage slaves. There are no assessment centres, no interviews, no rigorous reading of cv’s, no careful comparisons between the person spec and the individual – and no need to justify the appointments to anyone afterwards. These are appointments made entirely on the whim of the party leaders, and the reasons for those appointments will only ever be fully understood by the people making them. But we can at least try….

Much of the speculation in advance concerned the relative abilities of the players – as perceived by those of us outside the loop, of course. There was, though, some speculation about other issues which might be taken into account. The Western Mail, I recall, suggested that what it euphemistically – and rather kindly, I thought – described as the “flamboyant image” of Rhodri Glyn Thomas might tell against him. (They return to this rich vein of euphemism in today’s paper, saying that Mr Thomas, a minister of religion, “could not be described as pious”, and is one of the Assembly’s “most colourful characters”. It will be interesting to observe whether the responsibility of his new role, and his performance in it, will be enough to give the Western Mail reason to stop searching out new euphemisms.)

We should never forget that most politicians receive their training in the basic skills at the famed Hogwash Academy. (Incidentally, one of the Academy’s ring binders – obviously belonging to one of the students – fell into my hands recently as a result of being accidentally left on the BayCar. I may well share some of the Academy’s secrets in future posts). Central to the Academy’s teaching is that appointments are made on the basis of what suits the interests of the leader first and foremost.

The first thing to bear in mind is that no-one gets to the top of his or her party by being ‘Mr Nice Guy’. Climbing that particular greasy pole requires a combination of personal ambition, belief in one’s own absolute rightness on all issues and occasions, raw cunning, the ability to manipulate others, disloyalty to those higher up the pole, and a willingness to engage in a degree of deceit where necessary (and those are just the internal party skills!).

The second thing to bear in mind is that every person who possesses those skills in sufficient quantity to reach the top necessarily believes that everyone lower down on the pole is prepared to behave in exactly the same way as they did in order to reach the top. The result is that all political leaders inevitably suffer from a degree of paranoia, where they assume that all their colleagues are prepared to treat them in the way in which they would be prepared to treat their colleagues. Distrust is thus universal and all-pervasive.

So the game becomes one of putting people into positions where they can do least damage to the leader – and then keeping them there. As President Lyndon B Johnson once famously put it, sometimes it’s better to have someone “inside the tent p*ssing out, than outside the tent p*ssing in”. (Of course, if their aim is poor, it doesn’t make a lot of difference whether they’re inside or outside the tent – which at least explains the Huw Lewis decision.)

As for the Plaid decisions, well, it looks to me as though Jones has managed to avoid giving jobs either to the die-hard Rainbowistas (who probably didn't want to serve with Labour) or the die-hard antis (whom he would have difficulty trusting). Maybe he really just didn’t have that much room left to manoeuvre.


Respectable Citizen said...

It is amazing how many bloggers are excited about the totally uninspiring marriage of Plaid and Labour.

alanindyfed said...

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

it's my party said...

Perhaps our respectable citizen would like to see the terribly upright George Galloway bringing some excitement into it. Is there time for George to reinvent himself or is it too late?

Ceredig said...

I doubt that anything could rehabilitate someone who is prepared to try and argue rationally that pretending to be a cat on prime time television is a good way of convincing the electorate that politics is relevant to them. But I suppose that stranger things have happened....

Ponty Evans said...

Big brother is hardly "prime time television" Ceredig.

It's shite. And that's about as constructive an argument as I'm prepared to make on the matter. It deserves no further explanation.