Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Big beasts

In all the entirely justified fuss over MPs' demands for yet more money despite the fact that the overwhelming majority are incapable of holding down any kind of job in the real world more demanding than sweeping the streets, it seems to me one clear yardstick of the general incompetence, stupidity and avarice of our legislators has been missed: the near complete extinction of the Big Beast.

It has been a commonplace of British politics for years that all of the main parties had a series of heavy hitters. Almost by definition, most never became Prime Minister, there being room for only one at a time. But by any measure, they were serious players and serious politicians.

To name a few more or less off the top of my head: Dennis Healy, Michael Heseltine, Dominick Lawson, George Brown, RAB Butler, Norman Tebbitt, Woy Jenkins*, Michael Foot, David Owen, John Smith, Michael Howard, Anthony Crosland, Willie Whitelaw, Geoffrey Howe, Peter Shore, Kenneth Clarke, Jim Prior, Richard Crossman.

True, they may have been a pretty grisly lot. But they boasted an undeniable gravitas.

Even the Major government could lay claim to Douglas Hurd, Michael Heseltine, Kenneth Baker, Michael Portillo, William Waldegrave and Chris Patten.

The change first became clear with Labour's election in 1997. I would defy anyone to look at the members of Blair's government and identify anyone, other than Blair himself, the Bottler, Jack Straw and Robin Cook, who could have laid any serious claim to have been considered a serious player.

Today, the talent is spread still more thinnly. Heading the Bottler's team are Alister Darling as chancellor, David Miliband as foreign secretary and 'Jacqui' Smith as home secretary (surely the most common woman ever to sit in the Cabinet). Then, we find such luminaries as Harriet Harman, Peter Hain, Ruth Kelly, Hazel Blears, Ed Balls and 'wee' Doggie Alexander. You can find a full list of the members of this horror show here.

Clearly, all governments have their fair share of lightweights and other nonentities whose names are scarcely likely to reverberate down the years. But when every member of your government, with the possible exception of Jack Straw, falls into this category, I'd say something pretty fundamental had happened.

That said, the Conservatives can hardly lay claim to much more in the way of heavyweights. But in David Cameron, George Osborne, William Hague and (probably) Michael Gove, they do least edge past the actual government.

Has there ever been a more obviously undistinguished government? I very much doubt it.

*There is an Woy Jenkins Appreciation Society, its members delighting in uttering the word 'rancour' .

1 comment:

Fidothedog said...

Well said, my own MP go's on about his life of service - ie in that he has never worked outside of politics - and sees nothing wrong with the huge expenses that he blags off the taxpayers.

Sadly these days image is more important than substance with our politicians, that is why the Tories have Call Me Dave & that is why Ming was knifed in the proverbial back.