Monday, 14 June 2010

Stirrup sacking an example of loose grip, not iron vice

Still on defence, Liam Fox has just been making a speech about the Strategic Defence Review this morning and the cuts he must make.

He said: "We must act ruthlessly and without sentiment. It is inevitable that there will be the perception of winners and losers as we go through this process."

We should be clear that he was talking there about defence spending and not the way he handled the dismissal of the Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, in yesterday's Sunday Times.

It is becoming apparent that Sir Jock ,the top military man in Whitehall, was summarily dismissed by the new Defence Secretary to wipe the slate clean over a decade of involvement in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.

It also seems the decision was taken without so much as a by your leave to Number Ten, which is not how these things are done. Fox will get plaudits for being tough and decisive, but if he's not handling the MoD properly he may be storing up trouble for himself.

Giving Sir Jock his jotters in a Sunday Times interview is quite contemptuous of the office, if not the person. It is another example of how this new coalition is still finding its feet and not quite handling events with the kind of sure touch government needs.

The resignation of David Laws was a case in point. Cameron and Osborne thought it was quite okay to write that they looked forward to him returning to government in the future.

You understand how much they regret losing their Lib Dem colleague, it was a shame, but for the wider public he wasn't a man "born for the job" of cutting expenditure, he was a millionaire MP on the make.

The fall out of that, moving Danny Alexander from the Scotland Office robbed Nick Clegg of his eyes and ears across Whitehall because Danny's real job was not to run Scotland but sit on every cabinet committee, bar one, to make sure Clegg was informed of what was going on.

Alexander in the Treasury does not have the same Liberal weight as Laws would have and he might be being set up as a fall guy for the much tougher cuts that Osborne is and the Office of Budget Responsibility is laying the ground for today.

Similarly, Cameron showed some panache when he ambushed the 1922 committee with a vote on ministerial membership but caved in the next day when retreated on giving giving ministers voting rights.

For the Cumbrian shooting massacre he did not, to me, seem to tap into the sentiment of the nation, although it is difficult to see how else he could have responded.

Last week there was a completely unnecessary spat with the Westminster press lobby over travel arrangements for accompanying the Prime Minister to Afghanistan

All minor stuff, and at this honeymoon stage with no Labour opposition leader, not that important. But if this government gets hit with a Bernie Eccelstone size scandal in the autumn, just as Tony Blair was within months of taking office, it might find itself in serious trouble and with less friends than it thinks it has.

Cameron does not have the same kind of candle power as Blair had to burn on getting out of a tight spot with the public. Before a storm like that happens (don't worry something will come along) the Tories and Lib Dems have to tighten the machinery of government another quarter screw and lash down whatever is on the deck so that nothing else gets washed overboard.

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