An ornamental Secretary of State will survive

The BBC’s Stephen Walker (I know and like him but we’re not related ) speculates that with Big Devo now achieved, there may be no role left for a Northern Ireland Secretary. It has been the aim of British policy to scrap the post since the GFA. It also fits in with David Cameron’s ambition to reduce the size of his Cabinet and replace the three territorial Secretaries of State with a single Secretary for Devolution Affairs or Nations and Regions or some such title. Up to a short while ago, I thought this was a runner with both main parties. Now it looks as if they’ve rowed back on the idea, particularly the Conservatives who seemed keen a few months ago – but because of Scotland, not NI. With the Tories unlikely to keep more than a toehold in Scotland in the general election, now is not the time to reduce the Scottish profile round the Cabinet table and create the impression that Scotland has been downgraded. This would hardly suit the politics of the Conservatives as the party of the Union, or Labour as the only party that can spike the Nats. Doubling up with Defence exposed Des Browne to the charge that he was doing neither job properly – and would still be made, even though very little is left to do. So the three jobs will survive for cosmetic reasons. The next NI incumbent will need a salary, unilike the outgoing Sainsbury millionaire, but cut by 10% or 14.5k, if it’s Cameron in charge.

  • Pete Baker

    It’s not completely ornamental yet, Brian.

    And while it probably wouldn’t take too much effort, if the position was abolished they’d have to re-write those memoranda of understanding “underpinning the devolution of policing and justice matters”.

  • Driftwood

    Well the Army garrison comes under MoD remit and most ‘reserved’ matters such as Foreign Policy are Whitehall. What becomes of the NIO? Given the cost cutting about to hit the public sector?

    Anyway, don’t we have a Lord Lieutenant to look after protocol.

    However we do need a Mainland rep to shepherd the herd. Owen Paterson is shaping up to be the best SoS since Roy Mason.

  • Drumlins Rock

    does he still need a castle?

  • FitzjamesHorse

    in fairness…a lot of secretary of state have been ornamental.
    thats why we have a civil service.

  • Drumlins Rock

    driftwood, strangely I rather liked Brooke, dont know why though lol. the only two who ever give a stuff about ministerial post over here were Needham and the Baroness

  • Driftwood

    Roy Mason took it seriously. Labour through and through. Good bloke who understood the neutrality of the Army. I think Patrick Mayhew gave it a good shot. Richard Needham understood how we were/are dependent on the Treasury .
    Something that the DUP/SF/ Alliance beggar bowl amateur politicos should reflect on. Where the money comes from.

  • Brian Walker

    Pete, It’s administratively complex all round, that is, affecting Scotland, Wales and the centre as well as NI. But a single department and cabinet minister would actually improve co-ordination with the three separate jurisdictions it’s reckoned, and have greater clout with the Treasury and in cross cutting cabinet committees. Like so many things, it’s a matter of getting the political timing right.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Roy was before my day, 🙂 The difference with Needham was he also knew where to spend the money on the ground.