Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Zombies, Margaret Beckett and open doors

It's a story that arrives regularly with the onset of summer: the proposed merger of Whitehall's territorial departments. It fills newspapers and blogs as the silly season approaches and journalists run out of plots or other reshuffle rumours to report.

I first wrote about this at least seven years ago and one day, perhaps soon, it may well come true. The Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland offices may be combined under a "Secretary of State for the Nations".

A red-top Sunday newspaper reported a fortnight ago that Paul Murphy and the Wales Office were not long for this world. The Times wrote about it last Thursday - and predicted a Margaret Beckett comeback here. Wales on Sunday followed up the story on Sunday.

It set the scene for a slightly surreal debate on the Richard Evans show yesterday. A Labour MP argued passionately for the Welsh job to be scrapped; Plaid Cymru's parliamentary leader argued equally vehemently for the job to survive.

Paul Flynn says Paul Murphy has nothing to do in a "zombie ministry".

"It’s a mass delusion. The Wales Office and Scotland Office have virtually died. There is an occasional flicker of life but there is no hope that they will ever recover from their deep comas.
Yet politicians happily play the game of the living dead and cling on to the offices of Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland.

"There is a danger that these posts of Secretaries of State will become as meaningless as the Warden of the Cinque Ports. Grand titles, nice uniform but everyone will have forgotten what job they are supposed to be doing."

Elfyn Llwyd argued that scrapping the post now would "slow down the democratic process" - not a view shared by his colleague Adam Price.

Mr Llwyd praised Paul Murphy's work in the job - "his door is always open". Cue this response from Paul Flynn: "Understandable. The poor chap hopes someone will drop in for a chat because he has nothing to do."

Perhaps someone should design a uniform for Mr Murphy before it's too late. As a papal knight, he could always save the taxpayer some cash by borrowing his uniform from that role while carrying out his Welsh duties.

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