Tom Richmond: Key role of the next PM’s second in command

WHO will be Deputy Prime Minister after the election? If Ed Miliband wins, he will find it very difficult not to give the role to his deputy leader Harriet Harman – provided she has somewhere to park her pink van.

If David Cameron leads the Tories to outright victory, he will have to consider appointing a deputy. With William Hague standing down as Richmond MP, George Osborne or Theresa May are obvious choices.

If there is electoral deadlock and another coalition is formed, Nick Clegg and Alex Salmond will both have solid claims – depending on whether it is the Lib Dems or Scottish Nationalists who hold the balance of power.

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Why does this matter? This job is an important one. The clue is in the title – the incumbent is expected to deputise for the Prime Minister and, as such, it should go to the person best qualified to perform this role and represent Britain’s best interests.

However, the title, and privileges, should not be used as a sop to assuage politicians like Ms Harman or Mr Salmond who would struggle to command the respect of the whole country – the job title, and responsibilities, need to be made far clearer.

The first postholder was Clement Attlee during Sir Winston Churchill’s national government during the Second World War – it enabled the Labour leader to focus on domestic policy so the PM could focus solely on defeating Nazism.

Attlee then appointed Herbert Morrison as his DPM – while Anthony Eden combined the role with his duties as Foreign Secretary during Churchill’s second government.

More recently Willie Whitelaw performed the role with distinction under Margaret Thatcher, who later came to rue the appointment of Sir Geoffrey Howe to this role.

Michael Heseltine was DPM for the last two years of the Major government while John Prescott performed the role with varying degrees of effectiveness under Tony Blair – he also had responsibility for environment and transport during Labour’s first term.

There was always the impression that Lord Prescott had been given the title to keep him happy and there were stories every summer about who was actually running the country while the Blairs were away.

Nick Clegg has been an able deputy to David Cameron – the only problem has come when the holiday arrangements of both men clashed.

Yet, given the size of government, and the many competing demands on a Prime Minister’s time, I do think they should have a deputy in the Whitelaw mould who can chair key committees and resolve policy disputes behind the scenes.

Effective government is the key. However, unless there is some constitutional clarity, there is the likelihood of a politician being appointed to the role out of convenience rather than their ability to do the job.

WITH the greatest of respect to John Prescott, I am surprised that Ed Miliband has felt the need to recruit Hull’s big-hitter as a personal climate change adviser. After all, it is hardly a ringing endorsement of Labour’s shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint whose Don Valley constituency is adjacent to the Labour leader’s Doncaster seat.

It also reflects poorly on Mr Miliband’s regard for the Department of Energy and Climate Change if Labour is returned to power in May. Is he seriously suggesting that there is no politician, or civil servant, who can fulfil the role that has been offered to the former Deputy Prime Minister?

IRRESPECTIVE of the outcome of the inquiry into the lobbying scandal that has engulfed former foreign secretaries Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw, both men have forfeited their right to seats in the Lords because of their arrogance.

Sir Malcolm clearly was not taking his duties as chairman of Parliament’s Security and Intelligence Committee with the diligence that had been expected of him. As for Mr Straw, his checks into the authenticity of the ‘bogus’ company that entrapped him were clearly on a pair with his inquiries into the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction prior to the Iraq war.

Neither man should be allowed to benefit from a peerage that they regarded as an entitlement, and as a means of enhancing their future remuneration.

DESPITE Ed Miliband going out of his way to court student voters in the wake of Nick Clegg’s U-turn in 2010 on tuition fees, Labour’s business spokesman Chuka Umunna exposed the Opposition’s opportunism when he disclosed that there was no guarantee that charges could be reduced to £6,000 a year.

I hope students take note. After all, more undergraduates from deprived background have signed up for degree courses since the coalition’s changes were introduced – a fact Labour conveniently ignores. Britain deserves better, to paraphrase one of the favourite slogans of Mr Miliband, the Mr Wobbly of politics.

HAVING lost a dear friend to cancer this week, my regard for the Macmillan nurses – and hospice movement – is even higher because of the care provided.

However, the system is creaking – there is a national shortage of hospice beds and these wonderful centres only receive one third of their annual funding from the Government.

The remainder comes from fundraising, with the hospice movement having to raise at least £1.8m a day just to stand still and look after 120,000 terminally ill people each year. I, for one, would have no objections if the Government increased its grant allocation to hospices to at least 50 per cent – in fact it makes me angry to think that this has not already happened given the amount of money squandered each year by Whitehall.

LISTENING to the peerless punditry of Geoffrey Boycott on Test Match Special, it’s a shame his late mother Jane is not available for selection to England’s misfiring World Cup squad. Evidently, she could bat like a demon with a stick of rhubarb, bowl in “the corridor of uncertainty” and pocket catches in her pinny. The Yorkshire cricket legend has taken sporting analysis to new levels because of his straight-talking. No wonder football fans switch off when Match of the Day is broadcast – bland panellists like Jermaine Jenas and Phil Neville, together with Gary Lineker’s lame smugness, epitomise BBC sport 
at its very worst.

DESPITE its advocacy of the living wage, the Church of England says this principle will not apply to each of its employees until 2017, according to no less a figure than the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Given the Church’s intervention in the election campaign, I think it needs to get its own house in order by the election to avoid the charge of hypocrisy undermining the tireless work of the Archbishop of York to help to shape a fairer society.