David Herdson checks out the runners for the Foreign Secretary job?
With Blair as prime minister, being foreign secretary has been something of a thankless task for Cook, and especially Straw and Beckett – heâ€™s done most of the work himself. After he stands down, the Foreign Office must look a more attractive post to cabinet ministers than it does now, and perhaps more attractive than the Treasury should Brown make the move from No 11 to No 10.
While there are markets for next Labour leader and next chancellor, thereâ€™s none for next foreign secretary. Thatâ€™s a bit of a shame as itâ€™s far more open than either of the two posts where people can bet, though the probable scale of the market would be pretty small.
If one did exist, who would the candidates be, and what would be their approximate odds? This seems like a question worth asking, especially given the relative inexperience in foreign affairs of Gordon Brown and so the likely increase in the importance of the job.
For me, this is (at the moment) a purely hypothetical exercise, but I hope an interesting one. Here are my suggestions on the options:
Hilary Benn: 7/2 fav
He seems well regarded, has done a good if unspectacular job as International Development Secretary, and could well be deputy leader when the decision has to be made, giving him a strong political base.
Jack Straw: 9/2
Did a reasonably good job in very difficult circumstances last time. Gordon Brownâ€™s campaign manager, so presumably in line for a promotion in the likely event of a Brown win. The Iraq experience counts against him though.
Douglas Alexander: 6/1
A key Brownite with experience in the Foreign Office. Has coped as well as anyone at Transport and should be a serious contender for a promotion in a Brown government. If the SNP win the Scottish elections, his position as Secretary of State for Scotland wonâ€™t help him
Margaret Beckett: 9/1
The ultimate Labour survivor – can she do it one last time? Beckettâ€™s hardly been a triumphant success as Foreign Secretary, but the she wasnâ€™t that at DEFRA either and got promoted. They say that possession is nine-tenths of the law and she is the one in post. Sheâ€™s also a woman in a cabinet where female talent is short on the ground.
Alistair Darling: 12/1
Another Brownite and tipped as more likely to go to the Treasury but if he doesnâ€™t, he could be a contender to replace Beckett. One of the survivors of the 1997 cabinet, a competent minister in his various departments and safe pair of hands.
David Miliband: 20/1
If he does stand and performs well, heâ€™ll have to be rewarded; if heâ€™s persuaded out of standing, he might get something in return. Very inexperienced, but building his own following in the party.
Alan Johnson: 20/1
Relatively popular and a possible deputy leader come July, an outside bet but not a far from impossible one. And Labourâ€™s best ever foreign secretary was a former union boss.
Peter Hain: 25/1
If Northern Ireland is still up and running in July, it will be a major feather in his cap and heâ€™ll have proved that he can do all the skills necessary to be Foreign Secretary. But it might be a high risk appointment given other questions heâ€™s had in Northern Ireland.
Des Browne: 25/1
Before the last month, would have been a serious contender but the Iranian captives issue has damaged him badly. Still, that will be two months in the past by the time the decision has to be made and he is a Brownite in an office thatâ€™s good training for Foreign Secretary.
John Hutton: 50/1
Who knows? Heâ€™s in the cabinet and isnâ€™t attracting adverse publicity.
Tony Blair: 66/1
He wouldnâ€™t be the first ex-PM to serve as Foreign Secretary and in the unlikely event that he wanted to stay at the top table itâ€™s just about the only post he could possibly be offered or accept. If Brown fails to become PM, this scenario might just make sense.
Ed Balls: 150/1
As close to Brown as anyone, but this would be the wrong man in the wrong place
Ming Campbell: 150/1
Might Gordon spring a surprise and go for a coalition straight away?
Patricia Hewett, Ruth Kelly, Hazel Blears, Neil Kinnock: all 200/1
Three useless cabinet ministers and an ex-leader in the lords. Kinnock at least has some experience after Brussels, and would be (fractionally) more qualified than the other two.
David Herdson is a regular contributor to PBC
Note from Mike Smithson. Is there anybody who could give us an informed briefing on the Irish election. Please email me.