Baroness Ashton. Ever heard of her? No? There’s a surprise. Her only qualification for the job seems to be that her full title is Baroness Ashton of Upholland – perhaps dear old Gordon assumed this meant she has something to do with the Netherlands?
Peter Mandelson may have been a discredited tit when he was appointed, but at least he was high-profile and quite blatantly had the ear of the Prime Minister. This dear peer? She may have been made Leader of the House of Lords last year, but she’s barely registered an impact on the public consciousness. She is, however, a staunch Labour loyalist, and the wife of similarly staunch Labour man, semi-influential journalist Peter Kellner, a co-founder of polling organisation YouGov.
Track record on Europe? Well, here are all her speeches mentioning the European Union in the last seven years. No doubt they’ll bear double-checking. From a brief skim through, all that’s stood out for me are the standard parrot phrases of a loyalist who’s memorised the talking points. Which seems to be precisely what Brown wants in Brussels – a bit of a no-mark who can make the right noises, but who hasn’t got much of a brain of their own.
Being harsh? Maybe. After all, one of her old jobs has technically had an EU element to it (along with several others, including the rather odd pairing of the National Archives and the Tribunals Service). But she was only in that post for a year, and the rest of her work history is decidedly of the parochial standard.
But it would, let’s face it, be entirely in keeping with Brown’s track record on UK-EU relations to chuck someone irrelevant and with little knowledge of the EU out to Brussels. He’s barely paid the EU a blind bit of notice since coming to power, and had precious little time for our EU cousins while Chancellor. Indeed, it’s largely down to Brown and his famous “five economic tests” that Blair wasn’t able to use Labour’s remarkable series of majorities over the last ten years to combat the rising euroscepticism of the British people. Those tests shot any pro-EU Labour drive in the foot before it even started through the simple question “So, Mr Blair, if the EU’s so great how come your Chancellor won’t let us join the single currency?”
Gordon Brown has, in other words, finally demonstrated his utter lack of interest in the EU. Hell, even Maggie Thatcher was more constructively engaged with Brussels than Gordon – and we’re in the middle of just the sort of trans-national economic crisis that the EU was in part set up to help counter. You’d be forgiven for imagining that Brown’s forgotten the EU’s existed – especially when it’s a big story that he’s going to deign an important EU crisis summit with his presence.
But hey – Ashton’s a woman! That’s, like, progressive and stuff! And it’s all the rage to appoint women no one’s ever heard of with little in the way of an appropriate CV to important political positions these days, it seems. Go Gordy! You’re with it, man!
I never thought I’d say it, but come back ex-Commissioner Peter Mandelson – all is forgiven. (Sorry, that should now be Lord Mandelson – yet another insanely stupid move on Brown’s part, albeit for entirely domestic reasons. I mean, bringing back someone who’s twice been forced to quit the Cabinet in disgrace and is hated by pretty much the entire country? And entirely unelected to boot? Seriously, Gordon? Do you WANT to lose the next election?)
Just when you thought a government couldn’t get any worse…
Update: Pertinent points from Jon Worth:
Mandelson was playing an important role in WTO negotiations, and Ashton will not be able to replicate Mandelson’s network of contacts, even if she has the opportunity to do so. For I can imagine that the French government is already on the phone to Barroso making sure someone else gets the Trade portfolio and Ashton gets allocated Multilingualism or something similar.
Agreed entirely. Meant to mention that. You can’t possibly have an unknown in as important a portfolio as Trade, no matter how big the member state. Brown’s just downsized Britain’s influence in Europe even further. Nice one, Gordon.