Front-benchers don’t seem in control of their briefs

A fixed-odds gambling machine Picture: Daniel Hambury/PA Wire

NEWS COMMENT: A move in the right direction but still not a win for all

Have your say

Have you noticed how some secretaries of state never seem to be entirely in control of their briefs?

This may sound like another cheap joke at John Prescott’s expense, but on this occasion I’m attempting to highlight the worrying air of indecision and incompetence displayed by some front-benchers when they accede to power.

Take Margaret Beckett, for example, whose appointment as Foreign Secretary had eyebrows arching all over Westminster.

She looked about as comfortable as a Sunday School teacher organising a stag night, and admitted reacting to Tony Blair’s offer of the job with a four-letter word, which at the time was thought to have been more Samuel Beckett than Margaret.

However, we could be doing the lady an injustice, and it may even have been the same four-letter word used by the rest of the country when her appointment was announced.


Jeremy Hunt is another who looks as if he can’t quite believe someone has been daft enough to give him a cabinet job.

The Culture Secretary seems permanently startled; his face is frozen into a wide-eyed, slightly manic expression as if he lives in constant fear of someone asking a question to which central office has not provided an answer.

He operates on cliché overload, and you get the impression an original thought may once have found its way into his brain only to be frightened off by all the platitudes it found swarming around in there.

Theresa May always looks as if she would rather be out buying shoes than debating boring old stuff like immigration control, Olympics security and anti-terrorist legislation.

Compare these people to the likes of Michael Gove and William Hague, who both probably emerged from the womb clutching a copy of Hansard.

Yvette Cooper takes politics so seriously she even agreed to marry Ed Balls, while Harriet Harman is probably suffering withdrawal symptoms as we speak.

A long summer looms – a barren period bereft of committee rooms and early day motions. How will they cope?