Sunday, 18 November 2007

'Goats' under scrutiny

Gordon Brown's 'government of all the talents' came under scrutiny last week as Lord West, a self-described 'simple sailor' turned security minister blamed his political inexperience for misstating his own pre-trial detention policy.

By ennobling four Westminster outsiders - an admiral, a businessman, a surgeon and a UN diplomat - and entrusting them with ministerial briefs, Mr Brown sought to show he valued unvarnished, expert advice. The idea was to portray the prime minister as a national leader rather than a tribal politician.

Not all the new ministers have found public politics plain saling. This has aggravated the resentment among some MPs who have seen outsiders rise rapidly in government. On several occasions, the foreign office minister Lord Malloch Brown has put himself on the wrong side of agreed British policy. Labour colleagues also did not like him describing himself as the 'wise eminence' behind the foreign secretary.

Lord Digby Jones, the former CBI director-general, has proved to be an energetic and enthusiastic trade minister. But he has courted controversy by voting just once in his first few months in the Lords. Lord Darri, a surgeon turned minister has won plaudits for the first stage of his NHS review. Lord West is also spoken of in the highest regard by those who work with him.

Bringing outsiders into government is not a new idea. Harold Macmillan relied heavily on his personal friend and industrialist Lord Percy Mills who held a number of ministerial posts.

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