Chapter 15: Three Line Whip
Charlie Falconer, a native Scot, was promoted to Home Secretary in the hopes he could control political violence in the region
“Peter Tatchell has been sacked as Home Secretary in Alan Johnson's first Cabinet reshuffle. The Prime Minister is trying to regain momentum after violence in Scotland gave him a hit in the polls. Mr Tatchell will be replaced by Public Administrations Secretary Charlie Falconer. Rosie Boycott is the new Education Secretary, with John Prescott sacked as Agriculture Secretary. Glenda Jackson will stay in Cabinet but be demoted to Prescott's old job. Peter Hain replaces Falconer and gets Public Administrations. The SDP is currently polling at 45%, down 2 points. Whilst National have crept up in the polls to 40%, up 2 points. The SDP's polling slip, as well as June's Referendum prompted Mr Johnson to push ahead with a reshuffle just over a year into his term.” - Time Runs Out for Tatchell, The Economist (2006)
With the EU referendum months away, Prime Minister Johnson didn’t want any nasty surprises, all the pieces had to be in place and any potential roadblocks had to be removed. This meant first and foremost, a Cabinet reshuffle, to ensure any potential headaches could be removed. A reshuffle had been on the cards for several months, considering Johnson’s increasingly fractious relationship with his party’s left wing. The recent terror attacks had stalled the SDP’s momentum, and National were beginning to slowly close the polling gap, Johnson had to reclaim initiative.
A nasty surprise came when General Mike Jackson, former First Lord and Secretary of State for Defence, would be taking this opportunity to retire. Jackson had served as Hill-Norton’s right hand man during the liberalisation of the early 2000s and was partly seen as responsible for Britain’s transition to democracy. Whilst he and Johnson had clashed, Jackson had remained loyal to democracy and the administration, refusing to speak against the government in public. Some thought Jackson would be returning to National, perhaps even to overthrow Tim Collins, but Jackson told the press he wanted a quiet retirement to write his memoirs of the Junta years.
Jackson’s departure was bad news for the administration, whilst all other Cabinet members were appointed by the Prime Minister, under the Cardiff Accords the Secretary of Defence was appointed by the Joint Chiefs and a clique of senior military officers. Many within the military believed Jackson had been too soft on the SDP, refusing to speak out and protect the military’s power. This led to the nomination of retired Field Marshal Charles Guthrie as Defence Secretary and the military’s representative in government. Guthrie was a hardliner, and worse a prominent Eurosceptic. As Johnson unveiled the rest of his Cabinet, the military had sent a clear message.
“Former defence chief Charles Guthrie has come against joining the EU, saying he is worried by the prospect of "a European army". He told the Telegraph he believed remaining outside the EU "is better for defence". There are two months to go until the UK decides on its future with the European Union, in a referendum on the 8th of June. In his interview Guthrie said "We should prioritise joining NATO. A European army could damage defence. It is expensive. It's unnecessary duplication to have it. It would appeal to some Euro vanity thing," he said. "There's a feeling that those backing the European army are doing it for political reasons rather than military ones. They want to be able to boast, 'Look! We've got a European army'. That is dangerous." - Ex-army chief Lord Guthrie supports to No vote, BBC News (2006)
Guthire was expected to have a more fractious relationship with the civilian Government
Alan Johnson Cabinet 2006-
- Prime Minister - Alan Johnson (SDP)
- Deputy Prime Minister - Alan Milburn (SDP)
- Chancellor of the Exchequer - Simon Hughes (SDP)
- Foreign Secretary - Tony Blair (SDP)
- Justice Secretary - David Miliband (SDP)
- Defence Secretary - Field Marshal Charles Guthrie (Military)
- Home Secretary - Charlie Falconer (SDP)
- Development Secretary - Jack Straw (SDP)
- Education Secretary - Rosie Boycott (SDP)
- Industry, Tourism and Trade Secretary - Chris Huhne (SDP)
- Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Secretary - Glenda Jackson (SDP)
- Public Administrations Secretary - Peter Hain (SDP)
- Culture Secretary - John Reid (SDP)
- Health Secretary - Susan Kramer (SDP)
- Environment Secretary - Valerie Amos (SDP)
- Housing Secretary - Polly Toynbee (SDP)
Europhille Rosie Boycott was promoted to education
Despite all the hype the reshuffle was fairly muted, perhaps because Guthrie’s appointment had taken the wind out of Johnson’s sails. The left had their wings clipped, with Peter Tatchell and John Prescott both taking their leave from the Cabinet whilst Glenda Jackson was demoted to Agriculture Secretary. Charlie Falconer was promoted to Home Secretary for his strong work in Scotland and Rosie Boycott was promoted to Education Secretary. Both politicians had won plaudits in the press and were effective ministers and more importantly they were passionate europhilles, happy to go out to bat on TV and make the case for EU membership.
Johnson’s reshuffle was perceived by pundits as a shift to the right after clashes with the trade unions. Whilst Tatchell had been on his way out for months the sacking of Prescott came as a shock. Whilst he was the most eurosceptic member of the Cabinet, he had been staunchly loyal to Johnson and many had seen him as untouchable due to his close relationship with the unions. But with so much of the administration resting on EU accession, no dissident could be risked, Europe was the issue for the SDP, it’s MPs could either accept that or get out the way.
Over the river on the blue team, National leader Tim Collins had a choice to make, whilst he was personally pro-European there was a large eurosceptic contingent amongst his hardliners. Collins could either force his will on the National caucus, with all the risks that entailed, or he could allow Shadow Ministers to campaign as they pleased and spend yet another political event sitting on the sidelines. Collins retreated to his metaphorical Norman Shaw bunker, surrounded by his closest aides. After pouring over opinion polls and discussions with his former mentor Mike Jackson, Collins finally made his announcement, National would be campaigning to join the EU, the coiled whip was unfurled.
“Britain will be “permanently richer” if voters choose to join the EU, Tim Collins has said as he declared his support for a yes vote. A recent Treasury study claimed the economy would grow by 6% by 2030, benefiting every household the equivalent of £4,000 a year. Decisively throwing his weight behind the yes team, Collins said staying out of the EU would be a “self-inflicted wound”. Collins' support is likely to enrage the hardline faction of his party, with as many as 70 National MPs expected to break ranks and back a no vote. Some Collins aides such as Chief Whip William Hague had encouraged him to stay neutral for the sake of party unity. In a Times article the National Leader wrote: “The conclusion is clear for Britain’s economy and for families. Staying out of the EU would be the most extraordinary self-inflicted wound.” - Collins declares for Yes vote, Michael White, The Guardian (2006)
Now both major parties were backing Britain's entry into the EU