For better or worse, Jacqui Smith’s days seem numbered at the Home Office. But there is no queue forming to replace her. Several of the ministers being touted for the job are far from keen to take over.
Being home secretary is difficult at the best of times; few have left the department with their political prospects enhanced. Plus the brief is about to become much harder. If Smith is moved, her successor will be bracing for the first significant upswing in crime since Labour came to power. As a recent Mori poll showed, home affairs is second only to the economy in importance for voters. It could still prove to be one of the dominant themes of the election campaign.
So as the positioning begins over the cabinet reshuffle, we’ve drawn up a list of runners and riders. We’ve chalked up some of our own odds, but I’m afraid our finances don’t stretch to taking any bets.
Ed Balls — 2/1 favourite
The big question in any Brown reshuffle is how Balls will be best served. He is currently the favourite on Betfair to become home secretary. It is the most senior job he could be given, if you assume Alistair Darling is unlikely to be moved. But is he a good enough media performer? And would Balls want to take the risk? Are there jobs that would better allow him to build up support in the party?
David Miliband — 4/1
If the “poisoned chalice” theory holds, this would be a way for Brown to tie down one of his rivals. But, if all goes well, Miliband would emerge after the election having held two of the top three jobs in government. That is quite a CV. The other risk for Brown is that Miliband could turn down the job. This act of rebellion would give him distance from Brown and allow him to bide his time on the backbenches, building up support among Labour activists and MPs.
Alan Johnson — 7/1
A savvy performer. Health is one of the areas Labour seem to be doing relatively well on. No mistakes over the swine flu “crisis”. But there are doubts among the Brown team. Is he motivated enough? And does it make him more of a leadership threat?
Jack Straw — 7/1
The back to the future option. A safe pair of hands who survived his last stint at the Home Office. Brings him back into the front ranks. But would he prefer a return to the Foreign Office?
David Blunkett – 10/1
There’s speculation in Westminster that Blunkett wants his old job back. After his negative comments on ID cards, some thought he could be brought back to kill off the programme (the creator of the project is the only one with the credibility to drop it etc…). But the recent announcements on going ahead with pilots make a U-turn even less likely. And would Brown want Blunkett carrying all that baggage back in to the cabinet room?
James Purnell — 15/1
If he ever accepted the job, he would probably be the most liberal home secretary since Roy Jenkins. He could achieve the feat of outflanking the Lib Dems on immigration and David Cameron on hugging hoodies. Outsider.
John Reid — 20/1
The former home secretary is making more media appearances backing Brown. Could be the surprise return of the reshuffle. But seems content chairing Celtic football club. And would you want to revive all the “fit for purpose” stories?
Harriet Harman — 20/1
This would keep a woman in the top three jobs. But home secretary? Surely not?