So we have a new Secretary of State

Haven’t so far detected Theresa Villiers the reported new NI secretary showing the slightest interest in Northern Ireland or Irish affairs during her short political career. Quite a high flier aged 42 and a barrister and academic lawyer by background, she was elected to the outer London seat of Chipping Barnet in 2005 after years as a euro-sceptic MEP. Had it not been for the pressure on cabinet places due the coalition, she might have expected appointment as Transport Secretary in 2010 but had to settle for the deputy’s job. With at least two women sacked from the cabinet the NI Secretary’s job was a convenient promotion billet. It also took her safely away from the 3rd runway at Heathrow and the high speed railway line which she was bound to oppose for constituency reasons.

How she will deal with the persistent sexism of Northern Ireland’s establishment? Differently from Mo Mowlam, we can be sure.  Will she take to lecturing the Assembly parties on their performance as her frustrated predecessor did?  Will there be any sign of an agenda of any sort emerging from Westminster apart from chivvying? Bold moves on corporation tax for instance?  I’m not holding my breath.The job has greatly reduced from the old pro-consular days to holding the ring over  issues such as “national security.”

Owen Paterson’s reported appointment as Environment Secretary suggests  that green policies  will receive further demotion. It may have been less than he hoped for.  Chris Grayling and Paterson are both right wingers but Grayling won party profile as a senior work and pensions minister while Paterson gained little from the NI job. Grayling’s appointment as Justice Secretary signals a shift to the right over human rights. Even more than Villiers he might have expected a cabinet post in 2010. He had been shadow Home Secretary in opposition  and had been denied cabinet rank by the need to find cabinet posts for the Lib Dems.

As usual with most secretaries of state, Paterson’s departure will be welcomed locally. This of course is not the measure of his achievement in a rump of a job which survives only out of political necessity in Westminster.  One idea for the territorial offices was to amalgamate them as a department for nations and regional under Ken Clarke. But as that came from the former Labour Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell it was an unlikely runner. Will dear old Ming be appointed to stffen the Union cause as Scotland Secretary? Watch the space.  Villiers’ appointment  confirms that David Cameron  has no intention of abolishing the territorial  secretaries of state or even amalgamating them with more substantial  jobs as happened latterly under Labour. Abolition or amalgamation is unlikely to happen until after the Scottish referendum at the earliest.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • keano10

    Thankless position for anyone. She can start off by sorting out the North Belfast UVF who seem to dearly miss the ‘good old days’ of street rioting, petrol bombs and attacking dozens of police officers who they would claim to ‘support’.

    Pulling the plug on all their funded little ‘community’ groups might assist them in getting back on the straight and narrow.

    Or maybe not…

  • Well, let’s take stock, so far:

    ¶ A NI Secretary, who has never shown any interest in NI or Irish affairs;

    ¶ A Chairman of the Tory Party with double-identity issues;

    ¶ A Transport Secretary sacked because she stood by her Party’s manifesto and the “pledges” made by her Party leader;

    ¶ A Health Secretary who believes in homeopathy, that the abortion limit should be 12 weeks, and that stem-cell research should be stopped (and a slippery grasp on limits of ministerial competence);

    ¶ A Culture Secretary who has no obvious track-record in matters cultural, beyond one appearance on Woman’s Hour seven years ago (but then, there is a need for token women in the Cabinet — see also above);

    ¶ An Environment Secretary who opposes renewables, promotes shale-gas extraction, would gas badgers …

    … it’s all looking good and progressive, yes?

  • GoldenFleece

    Malcolm, sounds like the line up at Stormont lol.

  • Villiers becomes our eighteenth SoS for NI – I try to remind the new incumbents that Adams and McGuinness met the very first one and are still here; can Sluggerettes name the previous 17?

  • John Ó Néill

    Quintin – off the top of my head and not in order: Mayhew (1); Brooke (2); Tom King (3); Peter Hain (4); Patterson (5); John Reid (6); Willie Whitelaw – was he actually SoS or did he have some other official title (7); Dougie Hurd (8); James Prior (9); Mason (10); Mowlam (11); Mandelson (12); Murphy (13); Woodward (14); I think Humphrey Atkins was also SoS which makes (15) – so I’m missing a couple at least (presuming none of the above are wrong).

  • Quintin Oliver @ 3:14 pm:

    Nice one!

    I managed a round dozen, then looked ’em up. Some distinguished names there — especially when it was a “real job”. The advanced version of the same game would be to allocate each one to either the “going up” or the “going down” escalator. On balance, I’d reckon on downward drift.

    Bonus point: if “Cactus Jack” Garner most effectively nailed the US Vice Presidency (“not worth a bucket of warm p…”), did anyone adequately define the NI role? Merlyn Rees, on his first day in office, was told by his Permanent Secretary: ‘The trouble with Northern Ireland is that you think there is a blue sky, and then you get a bolt from the blue, a huge political thunderstorm.’ Rees, out of office, had to be persuaded not to call his book, No solution.

  • Greenflag

    (“not worth a bucket of cold p…”) ? A thankless task but somebody has to keep the lid on until the indigenes grow up :(?

  • Mister_Joe

    Much too kind, Greenflag, using the word indigenes.

  • BluesJazz

    I wonder how many of them shared the view of Reggie Maudling as he boarded the plane back to Blighty.

  • …and if we take Malcolm’s reference to Rees as No. 16, who was No. 17?

    (Probably the most overlooked and forgotten in this nerdy game; chronologically No. 2, to offer a clue)

  • BluesJazz @ 4:15 pm:

    I just reviewed that list. I’d reckon on half of them being up for a large scotch at any time (in Mandy’s case, a Pinot Grigio Superiore Cantina Breganze might suffice). Though Reggie’s consumption could probably have seen them all off).

    I knew there was a connection between Maudling and the viper/antelope story. I found it here. Just think: after next 20th January, something similar could be a model for the best transatlantic put-down since Hugh Grant’s definition of “relationship”. It could also be Cameron’s best — only — hope of re-election.

  • Mister_Joe

    Great read, Malcolm. What an eclectic set of rules/traditions is to be found in the House Of Commons. The only person who can brink an alcoholic drink (externally) inside the Chamber is the Chancellor during his/her budget delivery. What a hoot.

  • Quintin Oliver @ 4:26 pm:

    ¶ a decent guy,
    ¶ a rank Tory, but honourably so, and wringing wet,
    ¶ grandson of the Bishop of Bombay,
    ¶ Etonian oboe to Humphrey Lyttleton’s trumpet.

    And he was one of the first to blow the gaff on Thatcher’s drink habit.

  • Kevsterino

    Can anyone tell me how many SoS have been lawyers?

  • Kevsterino @ 5:26 pm:

    Interesting question! I’d guess remarkably few, in comparison with the past complexion of the Commons. Scanning the list, I’d reckon only Mayhew and Villiers, compared to at least three farming/landowning types (Whitelaw, Pym, Prior).

  • lamhdearg2

    very pro Israel, how will that sit with anti israel types. will she feel the need to placate them by doing something the pro israel types will dislike, will this mean her losing the pro Israel types.

  • lamhdearg2 @ 6:58 pm:


    1. You’re on the wrong thread;


    2. You. Have. Got. To. Be. Pulling. Our Chains.

  • lamhdearg2

    Malcolm, how come, and. whats. with. all. the. full. stops.

  • feismother

    So, she’s one of “the” Villiers? Yes?

    How is it pronounced? Everybody I’ve heard today pronounces the “i” but the late actor James Villiers is a connection and only this afternoon I’ve heard him pronounce the name as “Villers”. So are Mark Devenport etc getting it wrong?

    I think we should be told……

  • Framer

    Almost all of them prospered politically after being here which is why Mandelson was so keen to get the job.

  • lamhdearg2

    I am reposting this as despite Malcolms comment, I feel as Ulster view on the palestine issue (in the main) splits people along the normal lines, its relevant.
    (Theresa villiers appears to be)
    very pro Israel, how will that sit with (ulsters) anti israel types. will she feel the need to placate them by doing something the pro israel types (of ulster) will dislike, will this mean her losing the pro Israel types.

  • Mister_Joe

    No, lamhdearg,

    I can’t see how her views on the Middle East, even if correctly reported, can have any relevance to her job here. I can’t remotely imagine asking us folks for our views on that.

  • Thank you, Mister_Joe @ 11:09 pm, you are more patient and tolerant than I could be.

    For the record:

    Perhaps four-fifths of Tory MPs, from Cameron down, are linked to Conservative Friends of Israel — it’s a “Mom and apple pie” orthodoxy.

    Take a look at the demography — even the geography — of Chipping Barnet constituency. With 7.5% of the electorate declaring themselves “Jewish”, I’d reckon a CFI connection was a sine qua non.

    I wasn’t aware that the NI Office had an independent foreign policy.

  • BluesJazz

    Didn’t Thatcher despatch the aristocrat ‘wets’ here as a form of punishment for opposing the monetarist Friedman orthodoxy?
    The only SoS with any balls was Labour’s Roy Mason who decided to take on the terrorists. And got results.

    The new girl is here to stamp her ‘ministerial’ card and be gone to pastures new before the next election.
    The Tory Caroline Flint. Only with a better pedigree.
    So it goes..

  • Mister_Joe

    Random thought sparked by the last few points.
    You’re on the pitch , trying hard to keep your eye on the ball. That’s the main rule drummed into you by the coach.
    A “fan” throws another ball, a wobbly one, on to the pitch. You kick that ball out of touch. Should the ref penalize you for that?

  • lamhdearg2

    what game are you playing Joe.

  • I thought Mister_Joe was playing the game. I had grave suspicions of lamhdearg2 @ 6:58 pm. That post was either showing lack of awareness of the modern Tory party, Villiers and her constituency, or it was an outrageous curve-ball. If it was the latter, the way it was expressed, and the follow up @ 11:04 pm could — could — be interpreted as a way of leading the thread blinkered up the usual blind alley.

    I cannot see that Villiers is “very pro Israel” (or, at least, no more so than the mainstream of Tory opinion), any more than that she has been showing “showing the slightest interest in Northern Ireland or Irish affairs”. There is not the evidence.

    However, what we have here is a bright, cute and upwardly mobile lady on the make. I’ll venture she’ll make a fist of doing the job — not because of any commitment to any local cause, but, on the contrary, because she is intent on burnishing her reputation back home.

    Two further thoughts:

    1. It’ll be interesting to see how our local types cope with a clever, focused and engaging younger woman. Women politicos of some talent are not exactly thick on the ground in these parts — particularly when they come with a persona ready made for the social columns. As for the women we do have in positions of rank, … well … their “engagement” could equally be instructive.

    2. Cameron obviously has a woman problem. Apart from —
    ¶ Theresa May (who has managed to aggravate all those junior ministers who offed and went to other jobs — or were offed by the lady herself)
    the other three women in the Cabinet are —
    ¶ Culture Secretary (no big job now the Olympics are done, and the Leveson fall-out will be handled above her pay-grade);
    ¶ International Development (think Clare Short: this looks more and more like a parking spot. With the Toryright so exercised about Indian space programmes etc., DfID will be emergency and rescue only);
    ¶ hand-holding in Northern Ireland (and, no, you’re not getting differential Corporation Tax, but, yes, we are cutting back on the bunce).
    Conclusion: tokenism?

  • “Haven’t so far detected the reported new NI secretary showing the slightest interest in Northern Ireland or Irish affairs during her short political career.”

    Well, did you not interview her? I think “detected” is the operative word. Anybody ambitious politician aspiring to promotion to any Ministerial post is almost certain to keep themselves up to speed with all aspects of Government. A qualified barrister should not be underestimated, particularly one that pays attention to detail and masters his or brief.

    Us commenters are often criticised for playing the man but, boy oh boy, dont the Bloggers spoonfeed the prejudice.

    Owen Paterson is less likely to be remembered for his role as a Secretary of State than his role in putting together UCUNF and then helping to destroy it. That view, however, would not be fair. Most of the blame for the destruction of that relationship lies firmly with the Ulster Unionist leaders of the time who fed their own supporters with a phoney vision of a Tory Party that would do whatever they wanted them do for them whilst pretenting to Conservative leaders that they shared their vision of a new politics.

    As somebody that wanted to do good for Northern Ireland, Owen wore his heart on his sleave. He believed passionately in trying to move the province forward through new politics by giving the voters of NI a say in who ruled the UK and cultivating a new brand of unonism that was non-sectarian. He was also passionate about moving Northern Ireland towards a more self-sufficient economy. It was he who pushed the boat harder than anybody else for introducing the reduced corporation tax.

    Owen, though on the right of the party was never disloyal to the leadership. His loyalty was severely tested when a decision was made to support a common Unionist candidate in Fermanagh & South Tyrone. That incident permanently damaged any prospect that the Conservatives had of being a trusted non-sectarian political force.

    Northern Ireland has a population that is largely politically impaired and politicians that want to keep it that way out of self interest. That is likely to remain the case for a long time. There is not much that a Secretary of State can do about that except look on and hope that one day, people here will rise above communal divide.

  • Seymour Major @ 8:54 am:

    I’d suggest that’s a somewhat rosy view of Paterson and all his works.

    Unkind thought: why am I instantly suspicious of anyone who refers to a pol. by a given name? Even one of their own allegiance? Why make a point about partisan loyalty? It doesn’t quite all ring true.

    UCUNF predates the ConDem government by at least a year. I doubt Paterson was its onlie true begetter, by a long chalk. There are other, far less benign, ways of viewing the UCUNF farce. I doubt, too, that Corporation Tax was ever more than a gleam in local eyes: the usual view is the Treasury wouldn’t wear it then, now, or ever. I like the third extended sentence of Seymour Major‘s third paragraph, though — mucho, mucho bueno.

    Paterson was and is “passionate”, indeed: read ConHome passim. Much of that passion hardly extended to NI: pylons in Shropshire; scrap Green taxes, all energy subsidies; damn wind-farms; dash for gas, even if it requires fracking; gas badgers; build the third runway; backstairs footwork on Lords reform … Mr Paterson had a lot of time away from the office, to paddle his own canoe in home waters.

    Above all, Paterson’s translation to DEFRA amounts to three things:
    ¶ it is, primarily, Cameron’s further homage to the increasingly-restless Tory right (to whose ends, Paterson’s activities have been notably self-serving). A cynic (perish the thought!) might even wonder if it involved bringing a dissident home, to be kept under closer supervision, and occupied lest he … etc. ;
    ¶ it serves notice that DEFRA will have wings and budget severely trimmed (i.e. > 30% cuts, a bottom line of minus £661 million by the end of the Spending Review period);
    ¶ it is a pathetic hope that the catalogue of DEFRA’s mis-steps can all now be put down to past history and laid at Caroline Spelman’s door — she who was firmly squashed, repeatedly, from above. Forestry, anyone? — Spelman’s last word on that was dated 28th August 2012, so we must be overdue for another review.

    A particular grief with DEFRA has been its inability to process payments through the Rural Payments Agency. If Paterson can grease that wheel, he will have farmers on his side (even if they can longer farm windmills). Methinks, however, the costive bureaucracy at EU and national level is not going quickly to change.

  • OneNI

    “I doubt Paterson was its onlie true begetter, by a long chalk. There are other, far less benign, ways of viewing the UCUNF farce. I doubt, too, that Corporation Tax was ever more than a gleam in local eyes”

    Pray do tell of these less benign reasonings?

    On Corporation Tax – you ignorance is probably a result of your distance rather than prejudice – even Pattersons enemies admit he was the one who revived the idea and pushed it hardest

  • Malcolm,

    My comments about Owen Paterson are based upon knowing him personally, not about what I read.

  • Seymour Major @ 6:45 pm:

    Thank you for that. In my parallel existence I still have contact with several politicos. In the hope of the occasional indiscretion, I don’t use the “personal” connections to regale or dazzle any hoi polloi here or elsewhere.

    Similarly I was aware, as OneNI @ 4:50 pm suggests, that Owen Paterson went full-tilt on a “populist stunt” (not my phrase: it came from one of those “connections”) over local Corporation Tax. I gather the exact advice he received, when he came begging for a tit-bit, may have gone along the lines of “not this side of hell freezing over, matey” (though the context may have been softened by a sub-text that “we’ve got enough problems with Edinburgh already”).

  • OneNI

    Malcolm get yourself some new connections -those ones are faulty

  • streetlegal

    Theresa – eh? – what’s in a name…

  • Comrade Stalin

    She sounds a bit, well, weird to be honest. All that talk about wanting to get stuck into the job – er, what is there to get stuck into ?

    The devolution of corporation tax powers is being strangled locally, not in Westminster. The DUP are very far from committed to the idea, especially the finance minister.

  • The devolution of corporation tax powers is being strangled locally, not in Westminster. The DUP are very far from committed to the idea, especially the finance minister. … Comrade Stalin 9 September 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Quite so, Comrade. Portly Sammy is lost for imagination in his post with the loss of a sizeable grant [£400m?] the carrot which beats him into toeing the status quo party line. But hey, he’s in a party of such petrified puppets, who are all unable to change anything and live in fear of losing their seats and cushy numbers and perky expenses for just talking around everything and kicking things into the future for resolution a later date which never ever appears to come.

    And they learnt that pathetic trick very quickly from Westminster, and there’s no mistaking that, is there.

    As for Theresa [Ms Villiers], well, I do suppose it all depends on who is going to be offering her sound advice and if she is prepared to listen and coprocess the information into actionable intelligence as to whether she’s gonna be a rip roaring success for Ulster or another thing altogether different and not at all as pleasant.

  • A small after-shock, courtesy of LabourList:

    tweet from Alec Shelbrook:
    Delighted to have followed Mike Penning to Northern Island as his PPS.

    Another one with a life-long commitment to not knowing who and where we are in the world.

  • Malcolm, are Theresa and Mike ‘an item’?

    Theresa Villiers: Minister of State for Transport 13 May 2010 – 4 September 2012; Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 4 September 2012 –

    Mike Penning: Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport 15 May 2010 – 6 September 2012; Minister of State for Northern Ireland 4 September 2012 –

    Just wondering, like 🙂

    Mike has been here before.

  • Nevin @ 3:08 pm:

    Dunno. Ms Villiers was married to a prominent commercial lawyer, Sean Wilken (now a QC); but that broke up some time back.

    As for Penning, he certainly “has been here before”. He served in the Grenadiers, including time in Northern Ireland (think in ’73), and under Robert Nairac. Now, I’m surprised that bell hasn’t dinged.

  • Bit more data-mining …

    The only politician to receive a bung from “Democratic Rally UK” was our own Theresa, “long time supporter of the Cyprus cause”. “Democratic Rally UK” is a front (and near translation) for Dimokratikos Synagermos, the main right-of-centre group in Cyprus. One might wonder why she was so chosen until …

    We hit upon Antonios “Tony” Yerolemou (last time I took an interest: 375th on the Sunday Times Rich List). He started as a Greek restauranteur, and branched into providing Greek and Cypriot foods to pretty well all the main UK supermarkets. Twenty years back he took over Sahib Foods (guess what they make?) and added that to the ethnic mix. Yerolemou then rolled this into 18% of Bakkavör. That put him on the fringe of the great Kaupthing Bank collapse.

    Yerolemou’s home base is Ealing; and his wife (Polish by origin, Barbara by name) is a former Tory Mayor of the Borough, and now back as Tory Whip and a Councillor for the Hanger Hill Ward. Which is interesting because we find Ms Villiers is in receipt of regular bungs from the Yerolemous:
    £5,000 in May 2005;
    £3,000 in March 2010;
    £1,000 in May 2012.

    You’ll also see the odd “freeby” to Nicosia, paid for by the Municipality of Morphou, “to attend a rally and take part in a march to support the displaced residents of Morphou who were forced from their homes by the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. Morphou is twinned with the London Borough of Barnet.” Morphou (also known as Güzelyurt) is in the Turkish occupied zone, so one wonders how the “Municipality” finances itself.

    I wouldn’t be too worried (as a previous poster was) by any Israeli connection. I’d be wondering whether the Elgin Marbles are safe.

  • When all of that posted 10 September 2012 at 4:39 pm is relevant, Malcolm Redfellow, will Theresa be in her element here.

    But has she anything new to offer anyone to free the province from its primitive tribal and petty parochial mindsets and give youth its voice and head to lead in new globally integrated direction?

    For is that not who everyone is building everything for …. those who come after us? Or is it still all Me Me Me and to hell with everyone else here?

    And say, “Hello, Theresa, Welcome” for you never know, she could be stalking and checking out the talent here, because it is pretty evident after how many years of Stormont rule, that officials have delivered diddly squat to change anything and render to a tiny community/national microcosm of approx. 1.6 million souls, a viable model of socially mature interaction and industrious invention ….. intellectual property development.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Delighted to have followed Mike Penning to Northern Island as his PPS.

    Hey, I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand.

  • “Delighted to have followed Mike Penning to Northern Island as his PPS.”

    Well, Rathlin, as a northern island, has its own minister – Danny Kennedy, formerly Conor Murphy – so why not its own Minister or Secretary of State? It certainly needs someone who can make the ferries run on time and according to the terms of the contract 🙂