There are probably only four or five months before the next general election, but it is remarkable just how little interest the impending contest is creating.
The assumption of just about every pundit – with some justification, given the opinion polls, the recent round of by-elections and the dire state of William Hague's Tories – is that Labour will walk it. The big questions about the election are the turnout and the size of the Labour majority. In other words, one, will anyone bother? And, two, how easily will Labour win?
The two questions have related answers: the fewer people bother, the fewer seats Labour will win, because the voters most likely to abstain are those who would vote Labour if they could be bothered. For what it is worth, my hunch is that, come election time, abstention will not deny Labour a clear majority, but I'm not putting money on it. Sorry to be boring, but, like every other hack on every other paper, I think that – barring accidents (and I'm not ruling them out) – we're looking at a second term for Tony Blair and his crew.
Which means that the really juicy story is who's in and who's out in the New Labour Government after it is returned. Over the past couple of weeks, the papers have been filled with speculation. Will John Prescott be given the heave-ho after his miserable performance in the transport brief? Perhaps he will get Cabinet enforcer? Will Robin Cook survive at the Foreign Office, which Peter Mandelson so covets? After Nice, he looks safe, or maybe not. And what about David Blunkett's apparent desire for the Home Office – or is it something else? Could there be a constitutional supremo, and if so who should get the job?
I do not pretend to have inside information on any of this – and you should not trust any journalist who claims otherwise. But I know what I think Tony Blair should do. And this is it:
Get rid of Jack Straw as Home Secretary. He has always been one of Labour's most useless chumps, ever since his days as president of the National Union of Students. In his current job he
has been an authoritarian-populist useless chump, responsible for a succession of idiotic illiberal law-and-ordure measures that have had no effect whatsoever on crime rates but do untold damage to the most vulnerable people in our society. Give him the Cabinet Office or something else where he cannot do any more damage. And, whatever happens, keep him away from anything to do with abroad, where his idiotic Europhobia would do untold damage.
Don't give Blunkett Straw's job. The current Education Secretary is even more of an intuitive authoritarian than the Home Secretary. Keep him where he is, where he has done some good work – and do not move him to anything to do with abroad unless it is the Ministry of Defence, where his antipathy to wasting money on stupid projects would be quite useful (and in line with what Gordon Brown would like).
Abandon Derry Irvine. The Lord Chancellor is not only a pompous twit – he is also indolent, incompetent and a constitution al conservative. Time for Blair to sever the sentimental link. (The
same goes for "Proper" Charlie Falconer.)
Keep Cook as Foreign Secretary. He has done a good job. If he moves, it should be to take responsibility for constitutional reform, with an out-and-out pro-European replacing him at the FO. That means not Straw, Prescott, Margaret Beckett or any of the
other obvious figures apart from – I never thought I'd write this – Peter Mandelson.
Kick Prescott upstairs. His performance over the past three years has been risible, particularly on transport. He's almost as useless as Jack Straw. (But do not give his job to Gus Macdonald, once a Tribune office boy: he is even worse in his current role than he was here. Michael Meacher – no, I mean it – would be a better bet.) Deputy PM with no departmental responsibilities is just about Prezza's level.
Fire a few Brownies. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has done a reasonable job in his own department, but his accolytes elsewhere have by and large been dreadful.
Don't promote the clones. Stephen Milburn, Alan Byers, Patricia Morris, Estelle Clarke – you know who I mean – give us a break – please.
Oh well, at least we can dream.
Finally, an admission. I got it wrong in a column earlier this year on the state of football, in which I predicted tough times for my team, Ipswich Town, in the premiership this season. As I write, we are third in the division, and the North Stand is singing:
We can’t read, we can’t writeIt's much more fun than politics.
But that don’t really matter
We come down from Ipswich Town
Riding on our tractors