Blair-era veterans given ministerial roles – Starmer does what we should have done in coalition

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Keir Starmer is bringing a few Blair era veterans back into government:

-Jacqui Smith as Higher Education Minister, first elected 27 years ago
-Douglas Alexander as Business Minister, also first elected 27 years ago and now re-elected at the recent election
-Pat McFadden as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, first elected 19 years ago
-Alan Milburn assisting the new Health Secretary, first elected 32 years ago

Between them, those four individuals have a total of 105 years experience in the British parliament/government/public life between them.

Compare that with our first batch of coalition cabinet members (figures as of 2010 when the coalition government was set up):

-Nick Clegg, first elected to the British parliament 5 years previously
-Danny Alexander, first elected to the British parliament 5 years previously
-David Laws, first elected for Yeovil 9 years previously
-Andrew Stunell (OK, I’ll give you that Andrew was a “grey haired” veteran at the time), first elected to the British parliament 13 years previously
-Chris Huhne, first elected to the British parliament 5 years previously.

The figures for British parliament/government/public life experience for those five people add up to 37 years.

105 years for Starmer’s grey haired veterans versus 37 years for our cabinet members.

Is it any wonder we messed up the coalition? (And that isn’t being wise after the event – as said as much here on LibDemVoice in 2012). With the exception of Andrew Stunell, we had near political neophytes in the cabinet, certainly as far as experience of the British parliament and government is concerned (a couple had European experience).

And now look at who we could have had in cabinet as at 2010:

-Jim Wallace with his experience Deputy First Minister of Scotland in coalition.
-Shirley Williams with her experience in the Labour government of the 60s and 70s.
-Paddy Ashdown (no introduction required)
-Alan Beith – first elected to Berwick-on-Tweed in 1973, 37 years previously to 2010.

I accept that some of these may have been asked to serve in ministerial roles but turned them down (Shirley, for example, was 80 years old at the time).

Would you care to punt any other veteran Lib Dem politicians’ names in the comments below?

And yes, I know I have been selective with the numbers and names here, for effect, but I think the thrust of my point is reasonable.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Jack Nicholls 9th Jul '24 - 9:54am

    I’d have loved to see Menzies Campbell as a foreign office minister. Hague would never have surrendered the top job, but Ming would have been brilliant as a Minister of State. Putting Mike Moore in the Scotland office was a masterstroke.

  • Martin Gray 9th Jul '24 - 10:03am

    Smith – resigned over expenses scandal…
    Milburn – made millions from private consultancy work for private NHS providers
    Mcfadden spent most of his parliamentary life in opposition…
    I could go on but you get the drift ….
    All tainted by the Blair government when in office ….
    Iraq , 10p tax rate , 75p pension rise , atos, David Kelly affair , cash for questions , Margret Moran & Denis Mcshane….Give me a fresh face with integrity – not yesterday’s also rans…..

  • How about a similar comparative analysis of the new LibDem front bench…
    However, it perhaps need to also consider experience outside of Westminster; which formed a big part of Paddy Ashdown’s strength and suitability.

    From what was announced yesterday (more housing, relaxed planning, more immigration), it is clear Labour aren’t going to be stepping that far from the thinking that got the UK into its current mess. Hence plenty of room for LibDems to to shine, so what skills can be drawn upon and cultivated among the new crop, as the aim needs to be to consolidate current gains and the push the Conservatives even more into being the third party, given it is likely the leadership challenge will further splinter and diminish the Tories. So the LibDems need to be even more together to show they are the opposition.

  • David Evans 9th Jul '24 - 10:51am

    Martin, while what you say is broadly right, it does miss interpret one key fundamental point.

    Integrity – the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles that you refuse to change.

    Sadly in 2010 we began with Nick Clegg fronting an inspiring Party Election Broadcast – “No more broken promises” and ended with him and most of our senior figures voting for an increase in tuition fees.

    Anyone with any understanding of human nature would have realised the inevitable consequences of such a decision.

    Yesterday’s also rans as you put it were not so silly – Charles Kennedy, Ming Campbell, Tim Farron, Andrew George, John Pugh, Adrian Sanders, Mark Williams etc.

    Nick, Danny and many others sucked into the naivity of Ministerial Collective Responsibility were.

  • Martin Gray 9th Jul '24 - 11:54am

    @David ….In Smiths case – in the SME’s i worked for – she would of been marched off-site & the police called …You might think the expenses scandal that she was embroiled in with taxpayers money might have been a casual mistake – misunderstanding etc – I don’t …People are routinely hauled before the courts for pitiful sums when it comes to benefit fraud …The Blair govt lost so much credibility bringing those individuals back into govt just shows that Starmer wanting to have integrity & honesty back in government – is all a load of bs.

  • David Evans 9th Jul '24 - 12:46pm

    Hello Martin,

    I think you are misunderstanding my point.

    As I said in response to your first post, “Martin, while what you say is broadly right” and I still say that. The only bit of your second post I think is wrong is where you say

    “You might think the expenses scandal that she was embroiled in with taxpayers money might have been a casual mistake – misunderstanding etc – I don’t”

    No I don’t think that. I agree with you!!

    All the best,


  • David Le Grice 9th Jul '24 - 1:23pm

    This is rather a bizarre post. We didn’t wind up with 8 MPs and massive long term reputational damage amongst young and left leaning voters as a result of having inexperienced ministers. Most of the damage done was caused by simply joining the coalition in the first place.
    The only thing that could have made a significant difference to the final outcome would be if we had avoided the tuition fee rise, but that needed to be dealt with during the negotiations.

  • Jenny Barnes 9th Jul '24 - 1:58pm

    Agent Clegg was recalled from the field and given a sinecure in the USA.

  • Martin Pierce 10th Jul '24 - 8:03am

    @David Le Grice – ironically, the tuition fee issue WAS dealt with in the negotiations. I quote from page 32 of the Coalition programme for government – “If the response of the Government to Lord Browne’s report is one that Liberal Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote.” Clegg and co were utterly naive about what the Tories were about to do with us, culminating in an election strategy in 2015 focused more on the ‘low hanging fruit’ of our seats than Labour’s, but we actually had the ‘get out clause’ in the agreement and then bizarrely decided not to use it. Much though I like him in all kinds of ways, I am afraid Vince needs calling out here though – he was the Cabinet minister responsible, but somehow all of them persuaded themselves that the solution – which was a simple transfer of funding from state to student (accompanied as it was by a 75% cut in HEFC funding) could defy political gravity. By way of an epilogue, working in the university sector and having two university student children, what was done then is the source of the twin crises we have today – students leaving with huge debts that makes increasing tuition fees politically almost impossible, which leads to a deepening financial crisis through freezing universities’ main source of income in cash terms, a real terms cut every year.

  • Neil Hickman 10th Jul '24 - 9:50am

    No, sorry, the provision in the Coalition Agreement for Lib Dem MPs to abstain was NOT a “get-out clause”. Only in the world of the “Westminster bubble” is a pledge to vote against satisfied by a limp abstention.
    I think it’s now generally recognised that the “pledge” should not have been given. As it had been given, it had to be a red line in coalition negotiations. After all, if the Tories wanted to bump up tuition fees, they could have looked for support from the Labour Party, which had promised in their manifesto not to introduce the things in the first place.
    And as for Clegg bouncing around the place declaring that he was “asking his MPs to walk through the fire with him”, as though breaking that pledge was an act of supreme courage…
    Yes, Labour broke a promise when they introduced tuition fees. Yes, Keir Starmer’s “Ten Pledges” proved to be worth about as much as the Lib Dem one on tuition fees. But that the Labour Party repeatedly tends to get a free ride simply because it’s the Labour Party is a fact of life with which we have to live.

  • David Garlick 10th Jul '24 - 10:43am

    Coalition… Don’t start me!

  • Lindsay Northover 10th Jul '24 - 11:07am

    Jim Wallace was a Minister – Advocate General for Scotland. There is always huge concern when Secs of State are in the Lords as the elected Chamber cannot hold them to account.

  • David Le Grice 10th Jul '24 - 1:47pm

    @Neil Hickman
    The public would have been similarly angry with us even if we’d not made that pledge. Wed campaigned very heavily on it in university seats and it was a highly motivating issue for young voters who’d supported us in very large numbers.
    There are simply some compromises that a party can never make when joining a coalition regardless of whether you’d explicitly pledged not to.
    Consequently our MPs were absolutely right to pledge to vote against the rise in fees, but they were both wrong and very stupid to break it by voting in favour or abstaining.

  • It would have been much more dramatic (if entirely not in keeping with the ethos of Clegg & Co.) to have simply said, “We are voting against tuition fees, what will you do Mr Cameron?” and then let him choose between swallowing the rebellion or handing over the government to a Labour-led coalition or minority government (which would probably have led to a new election).

    It’s not clear that the Lib Dems would have done worse in that situation.

  • Interesting to get Paul’s take on the Lansley NHS ‘reforms’ of 2011/12. Then, I was a Lib Dem Cabinet Member for Social Care …. but, awaiting major organ transplant surgery… hence a heightened interest in the NHS.

    Lansley’s outcomes were summed up by Professor Roy Robertson (Professor of Medicine, Edinburgh) in the Guardian in 2020. Robertson wrote, “The effects of Andrew Lansley’s disastrous NHS reforms, the decentralisation and marketisation of the health service has led to a demoralised workforce and a sicker population. His Health and Social Care Act 2012 was not the first but the most disastrous attempt by government to decentralise and allow local individual enterprise and autonomy. Other examples include Kenneth Clarke’s sell off of NHS real estate, resulting in an ongoing burden of public-private partnerships.

    Concealed beneath this apparent support for the NHS is the real reason for decentralisation and local autonomy. The 2012 reforms were a deliberate commercialisation and marketisation of the NHS, establishing commissioning groups to allow and encourage competition and drive down costs”.

    Today, as a lucky transplant survivor, I regard Lansley’s “reforms” just as disastrous as the welfare cuts, student finance and austerity of 2010-15. Long GP waiting times and hospital waiting times are the outcomes. Lib Dems in Government should have opposed them.

    I read now, with a wry smile, “Ed Davey unveils new “Patients’ Charter” with guarantees. Liberal Democrat Leader today (30 Jun 2024.)unveils his party’s plans to create a new “Patients’ Charter.”

    Ed should have listened to Shirley.

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