I was very wide of the mark with my previous post so now, with some more time to write and a couple of hours mulling over the implications of the reshuffle, here are my thoughts.
First of all Mandelson from the UK point of view. He’s probably respected and loathed in equal measure in the Labour Party. I’ve always been rather a fan. Yes, he’s tricky and divisive, but he’s also clever and efficient, and he stands for something. His experience on trade issues could be handy. But does Brown gain or lose more than if he brought one of the other ‘big beasts’ such as Charles Clarke back into Cabinet? Mandelson has more decorum than Clarke, but the Brown-Mandelson relationship has been thorny in the past. William Hague said: “With this bizarre reshuffle the prime minister has achieved the impossible and made the government even more dysfunctional” – let’s hope he’s not right.
Then there’s Mandelson’s job – BERR Minister, but energy policy from BERR will move to a new climate change and energy department headed up by Ed Miliband (who is for sure due a promotion). So Mandelson will not have as much of a job as his predecessor Hutton. The idea for the new department is OK, although putting some further issues together in a Ministry of Sustainability (as Persson’s government did in Sweden) would be a good idea.
Mandy will be a member of the House of Lords, so can’t face PQs in the Commons. It’s possible for this to happen, but is it good to have such a senior job filled by someone from the other place?
Then to the Brussels implications. I am willing to be persuaded of the value of appointing Baroness Ashton. Other than knowing she was Leader of the House of Lords I know nothing else about her, and her Labour and Wikipedia pages are rather brief. There’s nothing there to give any impression of how she would be as a Commissioner. Plus replacing someone controversial but at least high profile with someone almost totally unknown is not exactly going to improve the standing of the European Commission in the eyes of the British population. It of course makes sense – Ashton leaving does not prompt a by-election.
Mandelson was playing an important role in WTO negotiations, and Ashton will not be able to replicate Mandelson’s network of contacts, even if she has the opportunity to do so. For I can imagine that the French government is already on the phone to Barroso making sure someone else gets the Trade portfolio and Ashton gets allocated Multilingualism or something similar. Plus the European Parliament has to rubber stamp her nomination – should be OK, but not a formality.
Overall a day of interesting developments!