Tuesday, 4 September 2012

New MOD Ministers -initial thoughts on the reshuffle


So the much anticipated parliamentary reshuffle has gone through, and many MPs are probably currently wondering how they ended up in their new posts, and wondering how much extra they can claim off the taxpayer as a result.

 
It was somewhat surprising to see Defence getting new Ministers – for a department that so recently lost its Secretary of State, it came as genuine surprise to see MINAF (Nick Harvey) resign from the Government, and Gerald Howarth fired. Of the six ministers in the MOD, right now only three have more than one years experience in the department. At the moment, the current Ministerial line up appears to be as follows:

Secretary of State for Defence – Phillip Hammond MP

 
Minister for Armed Forces – Andrew Robathan MP

 
Minister International Security-  Currently vacant (was Gerald Howarth MP)

 
Minister Defence Personnel – Currently vacant (was Andrew Robathan MP)

 
Minister Defence Equipment – EDIT (05/09) - Currently Vacant (was Gerald Luff MP)

 
Under Secretary of State – Lord Astor

 
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State – Andrew Dunne MP (role to be confirmed)

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Andrew Murrison MP (role to be confirmed)

 
If the reshuffle is complete, then it looks as if at least one Ministerial position has been lost, and its not yet clear whether the appointment of Andrew Dunne is in addition to Lord Astor, or as a replacement for him.
 
The staff at the MOD (both civilian and military) have a very close relationship to their Ministers, probably far closer than any other department. There is often a genuine sense of affection for the Minister people deal with (regardless of party), and people tend to take real pride in having a sense of knowing who their Minister is, and often having work sent in to their offices. Accordingly reshuffles have a tendency to get the gossip mill working overtime as people try to work out what may come next and what the implications are.
 
The loss of Gerald Howarth does not come as a surprise – an individual who seemed to be to the far right of the party, he was an honourable man who some would whisper seemed more comfortable being a backbencher and speaking his mind than representing the Government and speaking formally. His departure will not really hurt the department and will free him up to perhaps speak more freely on many of his bĂȘte noires.  

The really interesting move is the loss of Nick Harvey as MINAF. This post was a particularly interesting one, as it was in essence the deputy to SofS, and the individual who most frequently would be seen as the No2 Minister within  the department. For the Lib Dems to walk away from it means losing control over a particularly key Ministerial post.

In practical terms this move means the MOD as a political department is now fully under Conservative control (although this could change if a low ranking Minister is appointed tomorrow). Having delivered the SDSR, and preparing for the withdrawal from Afghanistan, one could argue that Defence now should have a relatively quiet two- three years ahead of it, with no significant policy shifts due, or major changes to the way the department does business expected. The procurement budget is balanced, and there seems to be no intent on holding any further defence reviews before the next election.

What then could have precipitated such a move? The authors very personal view is that this could be linked to the issue of Trident and Lib Dem posturing ahead of the next election. We know that a review is underway in the Cabinet Office into the Trident system and the wider provision of the deterrent. This review was conducted largely at Lib Dem behest, potentially to try and provide wider options for the really tough decisions on what to do over the replacement of the deterrent.

One conspiracy theory could be that the review may be about to conclude that it is not possible to downgrade the deterrent, nor make widespread changes. Such a move would sit uncomfortably with many party members, and Nick Harvey may have felt unable to support the results of the review.

By stepping away from the MOD, there is now time to enable the conservative party to push forward on their commitment to replacing the deterrent. The Lib Dems can step back and be far less involved in the day to day process, and perhaps open up wider opposition to its replacement. Its much easier to be opposed to something when you don’t have a Minister in the department responsible for implementing the policy. In a deeply hypothetical outlook, then come the 2015 election, it may then be politically far easier for the Lib Dems to align themselves with Labour, who themselves appear to be less than committed to the deterrent at present.

This resignation may well be for the wider sake of party politics, but it does leave a hole in the MOD. Getting new Ministers in takes time – the new arrivals today will take six months to a year to be fully comfortable with their portfolio. It will not be easy to make tough decisions on defence matters when half the Ministerial team are still brand new to their posts.
Its unlikely we’ll see any short term implications from these changes, but its worth bearing in mind the relative inexperience at the top of the department for the next few months, and the likely delays that this may cause as Ministers settle into their portfolios and bring themselves up to speed. Hopefully though there will be no longer term implications for the MOD.


EDIT - 05 Sep
Since posting last night, it has emerged that Minister for Defence Procurement (Peter Luff) has also gone, and that the Department has lost 50% of its Ministers overnight. It remains to be seen how the deck will be shuffled to assign Ministers to roles. It is slightly depressing though that the MOD is once again seeing significant role changes - at present it seems to have lost every Minister appointed to his original role, with the exception of Lord Astor since 2010.

EDIT - 05 Sep
Andrew Murrison MP has been confirmed as a Minister now. He is an ex Naval Officer, who is still a serving RNR Officer who served in Iraq. Is this the first time the MOD has had a serving RNR officer as a Minister since the war?

8 comments:

  1. The BBC were reporting earlier today that the loss of Nick Harvey as a Lib Dem Minister in the MOD was a deliberate trade by Nick Clegg for a new Lib Dem Minister in DEFRA - which could make sense given the number of rural seats they have in the West Country. And I believe David Laws has been given the Lib Dem deterrent review baby as part of his wider portfolio outside Education.

    We could well be losing a Ministerial post. Levene recommended that we should, so this would be the logical time to do so.

    And despite their job titles, Robothan as was and Howarth were both paid as under secretaries of state, I think. So Andrew Dunne would seem to complete the set if we are indeed one down overall. The interesting thing will be to see how the responsibilites are divvied up.

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  2. I do wonder though whether the 'under ministers' in post actually have all that much influence one way or the other

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  3. Thanks Anonymous - I suspect there are plenty of deals within deals for this sort of reshuffle, but I'm still sure it won't do any harm for the lib Dems to be at a distance from Trident ahead of the next election.

    TD - Under Ministers have more influence than some think, but less than they perhaps want...

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  4. Re: The Conspiracy Theory:
    Defence Management reports that:
    "the Trident Alternatives Review to be overseen by David Laws"
    http://www.defencemanagement.com/news_story.asp?id=20785
    How do you interpret that?

    Also that Peter Luff has lost his post. Shame I liked him.

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  5. I believe Keith Swift, a defence minister in the 1980s was an RNR officer

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    1. I assume you mean Keith Speed, Navy Minister in the v early 80s who resigned after the Nott cuts. Author of the (very good IMO) book Sea Change.

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  6. "...it does leave a hole in the MOD. Getting new Ministers in takes time – the new arrivals today will take six months to a year to be fully comfortable with their portfolio. It will not be easy to make tough decisions on defence matters when half the Ministerial team are still brand new to their posts. Its unlikely we’ll see any short term implications from these changes, but its worth bearing in mind the relative inexperience at the top of the department for the next few months, and the likely delays that this may cause as Ministers settle into their portfolios and bring themselves up to speed. Hopefully though there will be no longer term implications for the MOD."

    I'm not sure I agree - Robathan (Min (DPWV)) moves to being Min(AF), and he has experience both within MOD, and previous military service (incl SF). We've lost Peter Luff, who was a nice man, but one got the impression that he was very much CDM (Bernard Gray)'s man:

    As the commentator above noted,

    "Former defence equipment minister Peter Luff lost his ministerial role in the 4 September reshuffle along with former Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey and former International Security Strategy Minister Gerald Howarth. Luff, who has announced he will not contest his Mid Worcestershire seat at the 2015 general election, is to be replaced as Defence Equipment, Support and Technology Minister by Ludlow MP Philip Dunne, a former investment banker and farmer. Luff told the Press Association he had decided to stand down some time ago in order to give the position to an MP who planned to remain in Parliament after 2015." www.defencemanagement.com/news_story.asp?id=20785

    DE&S may lose some influence on the Armed Forces Committee/Defence Management Board and it'll be interesting to see how this affects CDM's aspiration to become a GOCO, but within Main Building if indeed a Robathan's vacated post isn't being filled, then this is merely a contraction in line with Levene.

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  7. SO2
    Best put off any decisions un til the ministers are correctly briefed by the Sivil Service eh.
    Wouldnt want the peoples representatives having a say...

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