13 May 2006
So, you're a horribly unpopular leader of a country going down the tubes, your cabinet is in dire need of a reshuffle, but assassination is generally frowned upon. What do you do? Well, simply follow these step-by-step instructions and you too can bring turmoil to the very heart of your administration, crippling the smooth running of government for months to come!
1) Take a standard 52-card deck. The 'special' one with the pictures you got from that out-of-the-way shop in Sharm el-Sheikh will be dandy, just as long as Cherie doesn't catch you.
2) Write the names of your political friends on each one with a black marker pen. Discard the other forty cards. Hint: Mr Mandelson doesn't count.
3) Fling the cards into the air, and watch as the pretties flutter to the ground.
4) Crawl around on your creaking hands-and-knees - those thrusting, youthful days of 1997 seem so long ago now - picking up those cards one-by-one, appointing each of your buddies to their new job as you go. Hours of endless fun. Repeat in three months' time.
And what have you got? Good God. We were trying not to use the word 'desperate', but this is *desperate*.
This approach to ministerial appointments may explain, for example, the sudden and totally expected promotion of the likes of Jim Knight. Dorset South Jim was previously Minister in Charge of Endangered Monkeys, now finds himself Minister of State for Schools, a task to which his previous experience is entirely suited. This promotion, if anything, is just reward for five years of concerted toadying; and frankly, if we were after a pay rise, we'd do exactly the same.
Fat-tongued crusader Jamie Oliver recently complained that the parade of ministers through the education department was the number one excuse for lack of action on school dinners (closely followed by 'The dog ate my government inspectorate report'). So, nothing for the mockney chef until next school year, then.
John Reid. Home Secretary. Now, there's four words to have you hiding, gibbering under your bed in a fashion that the writers of 'Doctor Who' can only dream of. We are of the opinion that Tony is having a massive Beadle-like funny at our expense, appointing ever more frightening home secretaries as the years pass. Just like those killer robots in 'The Incredibles', you think you've defeated one, before a bigger, deadlier, downright scarier version appears a few minutes later.
Just take a look at the progression: Jack 'Reasonable' Straw. David Blunkett, with deadly claw attachment. Charles Clarke, his entire raison d'Ítre being cold-blooded revenge for a childhood at the receiving end of school bullies. And now John Reid. He's not even alive. Strike him down with an axe, and the pieces will slowly pull themselves together and rise, even more determined to taste human brains at the despatch box. At this rate, the next one's going to be a blood relative of Vlad the Impaler. Or Vlad himself, even.
It is the comings and goings at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that perplexes us the most. Jack Straw has presided over this particular department for five years, and while his tenure in the job has hardly been what we'd call exemplary, he has, somehow, remained one of the most popular members of the cabinet. This, despite his uncanny resemblance to the Demon Headmaster. While Straw has been Foreign Secretary, behind-the-scenes battles over a parsimonious FCO budget have been rather overshadowed by all that nasty invading-other-countries-for-their-own-good business. Twice.
Our meetings with the man have been pleasant affairs, revealing Straw to be a man of wit and education, and he's never tried to grab our bottom, unlike 'Shagger' Blunkett. Charming, that is, until you start talking politics, when the shutters come down, the CIA brainwashing clicks in and he's never, ever heard of a place called Uzbekistan. One would be tempted to blame a culture of plausible deniability at the FCO, where those in positions of power find themselves in a pleasing position of ignorance about the many, many unpleasant things in the world they are supposed to have an opinion on, or even be responsible for. This is achieved by the simple tactic of not actually being told about them. The Memory Holes at the Foreign Office are particularly deep, and Jack went thoroughly unbriefed on many, many things.
Straw, then, has been a remarkably loyal servant to Project Blair, and his transfer to Lord Privy Seal (How rare! They keep a seal in the House of Commons privy?) is a mystery indeed. We can only assume that he's hiding some dreadful secret involving the custody of Cherie's teeth, a liking for fish, and not, as rumours which we are certainly not spreading say, that Tony's cabinet selection is actually made in the White House. Because that would just be rumour-mongering. Whoops.
So now we get Margaret 'Mrs Potato Head' Beckett, an appointment which leaves us completely nonplussed. She's been a competent minister in her time, and somehow bridges the gap between Old and New Labour, failing, however, to make the jump over to the All-New-Super-Turbo Labour GTi that currently runs the country. Current membership: T. Blair.
We fear for our foreign policy, to be honest. She is no Condi Rice, if that was something to be proud of. Her spell at DEFRA was marked by the almighty cock-up that was the Single Farm Payment Scheme, where the ministry actually managed to make a simplified support system for farmers more complex than its predecessor. Glorious governmental inaction left many farmers in poverty and down to their last Range Rover. And now, with Iranian unpleasantness looming on the horizon, her reward for fucking up an entire industry is promotion. What could possibly go wrong?
As Tony's random government experiment takes off, we're still waiting in the forlorn hope that Jeremy Beadle might turn up with a microphone to tell Gordon Brown it's all been a fantastic joke. God, we hope so.