Rearranging deckchairs?


Gordon Brown, the UK prime minister, rearranged his cabinet yesterday. The most headline-grabbing move was to bring Peter Mandelson, a.k.a. the Prince of Darkness, back into the cabinet. Admittedly, that was quite a surprise, not least because Mandelson has already had to resign from government twice, and it's well known that he and Brown don't care for each other (yes, that is putting it mildly).

For what it's worth, however, Mandelson's a talented politician and was well regarded as Trade Secretary and Northern Ireland Secretary. His time in Brussels as Trade Commissioner has been a disappointment for free traders like me, but he probably did the best he could in the circumstances. Assuming he and Brown can keep past differences to themselves (and, very amusingly, the Spectator's James Forsyth doubts that), Mandelson should be a strong addition to Brown's cabinet.

Another, perhaps more important, story didn't seem to get much attention yesterday – Brown's decision to create a new energy and climate change 'super-ministry', headed by Ed Milliband. I think it's a bad move. Energy policy is far too important to the UK's economic security to be lumped in with climate change. An ideological attachment to renewables has already led the government's energy policy deep into cloud-cuckoo land, with serious energy shortages predicted in the next few years. Merging the environmental and energy policy briefs is only likely to muddle Whitehall thinking even more.

It's also worth mentioning that this is not the first new government department that Gordon Brown has created. His first reshuffle set up the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and, in October last year, he created a new Government Equalities Office. That means Brown has created three new ministerial departments and abolished none, bringing the grand total to 27 (full list here). So much for government 'tightening its belt'.