Poor old Andy Burnham. A few months ago I took him to task for aping the Tories and their proposed tax cuts for loveless marriages. Since then the boy has, improbably, gained a cabinet level post, but doesn’t appear to be doing any better.
His performance on the Today Programme (which doesn’t appear to be on listen again yet) this morning was probably the most lamentable I have ever heard from a cabinet minister. It was so clear he was not on top of his brief I almost felt sorry for him, were it not that it offended my sense of professionalism.
What is obvious is that these new proposals to force schools to provide pupils with five hours of “high culture” a week originated from his predecessor, not him. Purnell and Burnham could not be more different: the former – a bit of a dandy highwayman who was ushering in a new renaissance up until a couple of weeks ago – is Labour’s answer to Henry Conway. The latter more closely resembles Wayne Rooney.
Still, John Humphries doesn’t get away completely scot-free either. He was distinctly heard arguing that “creative reading” ought to be learned “by rote”. Uh?
UPDATE: The interview is now up. Listening again, it’s even worse than I remembered.
Since my last post on Clegg’s frontbench reshuffled caused such a stir, I thought I ought to at least comment on the finalisation of his team.
Firstly, on the question that adding the names makes the teams too large, I don’t accept this. The Shadow Ministers have limited roles to focus on specific areas; there is no question, as far as I am aware, of them taking a lead on issues. They are there to deputise primarily. While there is certainly an argument that the party should focus on pushing a handful of personalities – just the leader even – rather than a wide and potentially confusing group, we still need a team in size roughly equivalent to the government and Tory front benches simply to keep abreast of things.
Secondly, and I have to admit to knowing this shortly after my last post, but it is nice to see Jo Swinson and Jenny Willott on the list. I would rather see them doing substantial roles such as FCO and Justice than to be given totemic roles such as women, equalities and youth. The tendency to push women into these “soft” positions, while often well meaning, undermines them. It is one of the reasons why I view London Young Labour’s attempts to portray them as martyrs with such contempt.
Thirdly, it is interesting to see Evan Harris’ return from the wilderness. Shadow Minister for Science is an ideal role for him and I wish him well.
Fourthly, the absence of a culture minister is noteworthy. This means that Don Foster is covering the whole brief, from television through to the Olympics. Whilst this is possibly not the most crucial area of policy going, it does look as if it has been given a very low status by Clegg. By contrast I view this brief as an opportunity, if used creatively, to reach out to people normally uninterested in politics. I don’t think Don Foster has been doing that and I certainly can’t see him being able to do so if he has to do all the spadework himself.
UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that Evan Harris was already Shadow Science Minister and thus this isn’t a promotion for him. Apologies (this, Omar, is called making a correction).
It isn’t just me who gets my facts wrong however; the Guardian describes Jo Swinson as the previous spokes on youth issues. ARGH!
James Purnell is quoted in the Guardian today as saying:
“When Brian [McMaster, a former director of the Edinburgh International Festival who wrote a policy review to be published on Thursday commissioned by Purnell] talks about the potential for a new Renaissance, I don’t think that’s an overstatement. It’s exactly true.”
There can be only one response to that (pictured).
On a slightly more serious note, and we will clearly have to wait for the full report, but the suggestion that a) a renaissance can be contained within national borders and b) that it can happen within the arts exclusively is rather crass. One could argue that we are a good 50 years into a renaissance already – look at how the quality of life has been transformed. We’re waiting for the established arts to catch up, not lead the way.