What a reshuffle shows, however, is that the MP for Mid-Lothian and Bonkers can become Secretary of State for Defence without ever having seen war – or indeed met a soldier
Why have a reshuffle? Yes, fresh blood, old grievances, new directions and so forth. But reshuffles only serve to point out quite how flawed our political system is: what difference does it make if the PM appoints one MP who knows nothing about transport, health or education instead of another one who knows nothing about same?
What I mean to say is, why do we appoint the Cabinet in the main from the House of Commons? You might have some lawyers, some businessmen, a few teachers, doctors and nurses (hello, Nadine!), but MPs are generally not experts in any field. They have no qualifications for their department. The House of Lords is better qualified and is at least safe for now.
If you’re the opposition spokesman for a department and are then transported into government – as Andrew Lansley was, say – then you will have had time to pick up certain aspects of your brief, even if you lack the full resources available to a Cabinet minister.
What a reshuffle shows, however, is that the MP for Mid-Lothian and Bonkers can become Secretary of State for Defence without ever having seen war – or indeed met a soldier.
The key counter-argument is democratic legitimacy. This is easily dealt with: in America Obama can appoint a transport secretary who knows something about transport – perhaps an academic, a businessman, even a bus driver for heaven’s sake – but they have to be approved by Congress. Why should a British Cabinet not be approved by Parliamentary vote?
The reason for lack of reform is power (unsurprisingly). As Rachel Sylvester points out in today’s Times, ‘The ability to appoint his government is the only absolute power he has, undiluted by Parliament or the voters.’
But if we wanted a Cabinet that knew what it was doing, we would wish David Cameron to pick experts in their fields and promote them to the House of Lords. Damning tradition, they should then be allowed to answer questions in both houses. Wouldn’t a doctor or a medical professor be a better health secretary than Andrew Lansley? Wouldn’t a teacher or an academic know what really needed to happen in the education department? How about Jude Kelly for culture secretary or Jonathan Sumption for minister for justice?
Instead, what we get are know-nothings performing political agendas supported by entrenched civil servants with their own agendas, whether destructive or merely delaying. Reshuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic only highlights our broken political system.