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.

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