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That other reshuffle

Posted by Helen Monday, July 02, 2007 ,

News is coming through of the Boy-King's reshuffle in his court and it is not, on the whole, very exciting. The main players, Osborne, Davies, Hague, Fox, are staying put. So much for new thinking.

Francis Maude is giving place to Caroline Spelman, which must be an improvement. David Willetts lost the schools brief, which is not altogether surprising given his enormous gaffe over the grammar schools. Michael Gove will probably be preferable.

Nick Herbert takes over Justice and Owen Paterson Northern Ireland, an odd job, given the existence of the Assembly in Belfast but, should that break down again, there will be plenty of fireworks.

Following the example set by Gordon Brown Cameron is bringing in a couple of outsiders who will be given working peerages in order to be allowed onto the Shadow Front Bench. One is Sayeeda Warsi, one of the party's vice-chairmen (or chairwomen) with responsibilities for cities, is to take on the rather odd position of Shadow Spokesman on Communities or Community Cohesion. It is not quite clear which it is going to be. If it is Communities then she will be shadowing Hazel Blears, who is in the Commons. If it is Community Cohesion then it is, frankly, a non-job.

Then there is Dame Pauline Neville-Jones. She is becoming advisor to the Boy-King on security matters. Whether this means she will be the Shadow Homeland Security Spokesperson, effectively a non-job, or be given some other monniker is unclear as I write this.

Still, I have a few words to say about Dame Pauline. She appears to be a remarkably appropriate person for the job: a career diplomat with a subsequent side-track into business; one of the great and the good; former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee and "head of Mr Cameron's security policy review group, looking at national security, including terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and social cohesion".

In a recent pronouncement she knew exactly whom to blame for any problems we might be facing in this country:

I said that reports of prisoner abuse by British and American troops - however isolated - and accounts, accurate or not, of the mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo and extraordinary rendition flights leading to the torture of suspects, had led to the critical erosion of our moral authority, and that this had resulted in a loss of goodwill towards America which could be as
serious in the long-term as the sharpest of military defeats.
It is hard to tell what she thinks about the stories of Guantanamo and, as she mentioned somewhere else, Abu Ghraib, but this is not a particularly useful comment. Not altogether useless but not exactly useful.

Then again, her comments about the European Union are not exactly useful either:
In June, in London, I set out comprehensively our approach to the European Union, pointing out the opportunity, with the Constitution becalmed, for a British government to set out a positive agenda of a different kind, incorporating genuine completion of a single market and the creation of an outward looking Europe characterised by freedom and flexibility rather than ever-closer political integration characterised by bureaucracy and fossilisation.
The real problem is her analysis of what might or might not have caused the growth of Islamic extremism in Britain, which started some fifteen years ago.

All evidence, including that given by the author of a forthcoming study of Islamic groups in Britain, points to the colossal effect the Bosnian war had on Muslim perceptions. It was not so much the war but the fact that the European authorities lined up on the side of Slobodan Milosevic and other, lesser, thugs. Remember Douglas Hurd and his letter that pompously explained why Bosnians must not have any arms to defend themselves because we do not want to see "level killing fields"?

And who was the Foreign Office person in charge of policy making at the time? Step forward Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, known by some as Dame Pauline Neville Chamberlain. These little details get forgotten as does her subsequent involvement (together with Douglas Hurd) in the NatWest attempt to give Milosevic a loan on extremely favourable terms. (There is a discussion of it in this interview, the subject raised, I am sorry to say, by George Monbiot with the Dame being very defensive.)

So, do we think she is the right person to advise on matters to do with security? Would she be able to produce a narrative that could compete successfully with that fed to Muslim youngsters by their imams? In case anybody misunderstands me, I am not advocating the restoration of Patrick Mercer, whose one achievement is that he once wore a uniform. I am just asking.

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