Sunday, June 07, 2009

The First Secretary of State

This is the title granted to Lord Mandelson last week. It is considered honorific, but it does merit a little exposition, for the conferring of it upon Lord Mandelson ought to be of more than a little concern to Harriet Harman.

The term ‘Secretary of State’ means different things in different countries. In the US, there is just one (responsible for foreign policy); in the Vatican, there is also one (responsible for coordinating all state departments). The US Secretary of State is effectively a foreign secretary; the Vatican’s Secretary of State is equivalent to a prime minister.

In the United Kingdom, there are a number of them: the title denotes a senior member of the Executive – a cabinet minister in charge of a government department. Wikipedia unhelpfully explains:

There is in theory only one office of Secretary of State, and legislation generally refers only to "the Secretary of State". In practice, there are a number of Secretaries of State, each of whom can exercise the functions of the Secretary of State, and formally titled "Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for ...". These positions can be created without primary legislation.

A secretary of state is also a minister – effectively a principal minister within a government department. Each principal minister is subordinate to the Prime Minister – a descriptive and unofficial (even derogatory) term which evolved over the centuries and was not officially recognised until 1905.

To be first is to be premier: the prefix ‘First’ is synonymous with ‘Prime’, for ‘prime’ means ‘chief’, ‘most important’, ‘first’. To be the First Secretary of State is to preside over all other secretaries of state, and that is the role of the Prime Minister. But the First Secretary of State obviously cannot also be Prime Minister. Yet the title certainly implies seniority over other secretaries of state: at the very least the holder functions as a Deputy Prime Minister.

Which is why Harriet Harman ought to be asking a few questions.

Interestingly, she is not included in Wikipedia’s table of deputy prime ministers, though as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party she is Gordon Brown's ex officio and de facto deputy in the House of Commons (most significantly, if only symbolically, at Prime Minister's Questions). Lord Mandelson has swiftly been added to the list of first secretaries of state.

Surely Harriet Harman is not just a little female ‘window dressing’, is she?

(Blessings to Total Politics for the graphic)


Blogger Gnostic said...

Perhaps would should swap principle ministers for principled ministers. Or at least one or two ministers with scruples.

Not only do we have an enelected premier we now have an unelected deputy premier. Is this a milk run for the EU takeover of our benighted country?

7 June 2009 at 10:37  
Blogger Timothy Belmont said...

Your Grace,

Peter Mandelson is somewhat akin to a slivery, unctuous snake. The PM has found a quasi-political ally in the shape of Snake Mandelson; but a what cost? Brown is finished. The Labour Movement is scared stiff of a general election, so that's why Brown's still at Number Ten.


7 June 2009 at 11:02  
Anonymous len said...

The 'Prince of Darkness', the master of spin is going to have his work cut out with this lot!.
Brown has bought him in and given him power to prop up his flagging (or should I say toppling )empire.

7 June 2009 at 11:16  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your Grace,

Perhaps this is all part of some plan to move all power to the lords ahead of some planned but as yet unannounced reform. Maybe one where a third of lords are elected by unions...

7 June 2009 at 11:33  
Anonymous McKenzie said...

It's all a very bizarre and tragic story really. It reminds me of the Donnie Darko movie which is equally bizarre and mixed up.

Similar to the film, it's as though Brown has evaded what should have been his fated demise due to some ineffable twist of metaphysical weirdness, only to have caused a temporal event horizon which is now unfolding towards a 'replacement reality', where, similar to Donnie Darko, Brown will eventually meet up with his ultimate doom, but in such a weird manner as to sacrifice himself in order for some totally unrelated event to be avoided.

Tragic and bizarre. But we are talking Gordon, Obama Beach, Brown here.

7 June 2009 at 12:09  
Anonymous McKenzie said...

I have just realised that that comment was totally off topic, and i do apologise. But I got into a train of though which plunged me into the depths of surrealism. Mandelson always has this effect on me, he is an anomaly of the natural physical world, but he stretches my mind if nothing else.

7 June 2009 at 12:21  
Blogger ooberlib said...

I really do believe that Brown has now had enough himself, but he is not the type to throw the fight.

The obvious lies in that awful press conference, and his constant allusion to not wanting to quit in the middle of disaster, are cries for help.

On Marr this morning, the Sith Lord hinted at the end of the interview that the only thing which would bring Brown down would be if someone stood against him. In God's name, and in the interests of all things right, decent and proper, will someone in the Labour asylum please put their hands down their trousers and feel around for some balls.

7 June 2009 at 12:45  
Anonymous Bethel said...

Ooberlib-had enough himself or had enough of himself??

7 June 2009 at 14:16  
Blogger ooberlib said...

He has basically folded inside. If it wasn't for Mandelson and his self-serving private agenda, which I think only three entities are privy to; God, Satan and himself, then I believe that Brown would have capitulated.

Brown clearly has a huge capacity to for determination, but this on its own is not necessarily a great thing. There is a strange game at hand in all this, and as much as I cannot stand what Brown has done, I am more appalled at the fact that he has lost all control now to something much more malignant and dangerous.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Sith Lord is playing games with all of us; there is no reasonable explanation for anything that is taking place which can be tabled in any way which benefits this country in its present catastrophic condition.

If i was reading this in a novel, I would form the basic conclusion that Mandelson is a saboteur.

7 June 2009 at 14:48  
Blogger Demetrius said...

Harriet and Peter would make a lovely couple. They could have Bridge evenings with Ed and Yvette.

7 June 2009 at 15:30  
Anonymous Dave J. said...

"...Mandelson and his self-serving private agenda, which I think only three entities are privy to; God, Satan and himself..."

But you repeat yourself, at least as to the last two.

7 June 2009 at 15:58  
Anonymous Adrian P said...

He's not the Master of spin, I can see through him.
I remeber in 97 after Bliars election win thinking to myself, how the hell do people like that get into no 10, what the hell is going on.
Of course, I had never even heard of the Bilderberger Selection procedures and the two party state, why would I, I was an Engineer.

7 June 2009 at 16:11  
Anonymous eeyore said...

The Prime Minister, as Your Grace will surely recall, is normally the head, or First Lord, of the Commission into which the duties and powers of Lord Treasurer have been placed since the early 18th century. The PM is First Lord, the Chancellor Second Lord, and the Treasury Secretary Third Lord of this Commission. However, the PM need not be First Ld Tr: Churchill wasn't during the war, for instance. All that is necessary is that he is a Minister, and able to form a Govt which can command a majority in the Commons.

One sometimes wonders why Mr Brown, with his historical background and his peculiar delusions, did not revive the office of Lord Treasurer in his own person, and indulge his megalomania by stalking about with a long white staff in his hand. Perhaps he never thought of it.

Needless to say, the Lord Treasurer was never Secretary of State, which was a lower life form altogether. The Secretary of State was literally he who scribbled the State's letters, so wide knowledge, sound sense, good handwriting and a nice turn of phrase were necessary qualifications. Autres temps, autres moeurs! The office split in the late seventeenth century into two - the SoS for the North and the SoS for the South. The latter evolved into Foreign Secretary, the former into Home Secretary. Since then the fellows have multiplied until, as now, you can't throw a stick in Whitehall without hitting at least one.

One wishes Lord Mandelson much joy of his new piece of titular tinsel.

Deputy Prime Minister is an office unknown to the Constitution, so the title will mean whatever the Prime Minister (or Humpty Dumpty as he is formally known) wants it to mean. Nonetheless let us take consolation, as the country sinks slowly beneath the waves, that Ms Harman's austere dignity has not been trespassed upon.

7 June 2009 at 16:37  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I Just Love the American way of putting things.

Britain’s Gordon Brown Tries to Save his Hiney.

"Yet, he hangs on to power. Why? Well, that’s what politicians do. In the end, most of them don’t care about their country or their party. No, they care about one thing, one person only: themselves."

7 June 2009 at 16:49  
Anonymous penlan said...

As above,if there is a First Secretary, it is the Home Secretary as all others were carved out of his duties (starting with the Foreign Secretary in the 18th century)For that reason,the Home Secretary used to have various odd duties (attending Royal births etc).I think protocol still gives the Home Secretary precedence over the others.

7 June 2009 at 18:24  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So Peter is now the First Secretary of State and Lord President of the Council, the Baron Mandelson, of Foy in the county of Herefordshire and Hartlepool in the county of Durham.

Reminds me a bit of a character from Gilbert & Sullivan’s ’The Mikado’.

POOH-BAH. “It is consequently my degrading duty to serve this upstart as First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chief Justice, Commander-in-Chief, Lord High Admiral, Master of the Buckhounds, Groom of the Back Stairs, Archbishop of Titipu and Lord Mayor, both acting and elect, all rolled into one!”

7 June 2009 at 19:56  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS Sorry I forgot to mention that what we really need if a....
Lord High Executioner!!!

7 June 2009 at 20:02  
Anonymous no nonny said...

I think somebody in our euro bureau ['government'] has plagiarised Marlowe's "Dr. Faustus." Though really, they would prefer the german version.

Either way, Brown the child prodigy and PhD = Faust; mandy = Mephistopheles/Satan.

As I recall, having cried out to God, Marlowe's Faustus disappears; and the play leaves open the question of how the overreaching academic/magician reaches his end. In one version, his students find the dismembered body of the arch-illusionist.

Will the Dream of Dr. Broonus leave open the question of 'what happens to the populace who must clean up after him'? Oh, and btw - Who wrote THIS script?

WV: reeli

7 June 2009 at 20:15  
Anonymous Dave J. said...

Eeyore, Brown can reunify the office of Lord Treasurer for Mandy, and then revive the office of Lord High Steward for himself: as the premier Great Office of State, since the 15th century it's normally only been revived for the single day of a coronation.

7 June 2009 at 21:27  
Anonymous dearieme said...

He started as a Young Communist, didn't he? His pension now depends on his continuing to advance the interests of the EU Commission. His housing record suggests a certain flexibility of morals.

And he's odious - perfectly qualified for Labour, then.

8 June 2009 at 10:59  
Anonymous John Malcolmson said...

Window-dressing, Your Grace? Apart from an ill-starred war in Iraq, isn't this all NuLab have been doing for the past 12 years anyway? So what's new?

Please can we have somebody to run the country? Oh sorry I forgot. We have. They're based in Brussels.

8 June 2009 at 12:31  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dread to think what grubby, cowardly, gutterslop deals GB has done with Mandelson in order to still be "leader" of the gang. It has the stench of ride roughshod EU arrogance about it. I am stunned-and I must confess slightly disquieted-that he is still hanging on. I genuinely thought he would be finished by Monday night. The media seemed to suddenly alter their tone, did someone order them to shut up? But evidently his handler/s are well able to "terrorise" (according to Mr Field) potential rebels into submission. Mugabe or Saddam would of gone a step further and shot them....I worry that we may in fact have already participated in our last "free" general election, back in 2005, and that Gordon and his people are so determined to keep a hold of office and perks, that they will go to extreme measures. Increasing and visible support for the BNP would surely be enough excuse to declare a national state of "terrorist emergency" and suspend normal goverment (as if that didnt happen years ago) Am I right in guessing that evry EU state has a civil contingencies bill or similar draconian powers to supress nationalism?

9 June 2009 at 22:43  

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