Daniel Korski

Mitchell takes on the pirates

Mitchell takes on the pirates
Text settings

One of the more frequent charges against the Tory frontbench is that it lacks depth and breadth. Once you have played your Cameron, Osborne, Hague and Gove there is not much left in the hand. Or so the argument goes. Yet, to my mind, this argument was always overdone and - as the Brown government begins to self-destruct - voters are taking a closer look at what the Tory frontbench has to offer. In many cases I think they will like what they see.

Take, for instance, Andrew Mitchell, the Shadow Development Secretary, who put in a fine performance on the Today Programme this morning. Mitchell has not always been well-liked by the party rank-and-file (or, indeed, by the blogosphere), and, among the Tory’s foreign policy beasts, he has always been seen as the weaker animal. As a Tory MP once remarked to me, he always thought Mitchell looked like a frightened animal, surrounded by prowling carnivores. Looking after DFID has not made things easy for the former banker. The blue-rinse brigade would like to see the department he hopes to run folded into the Foreign Office or simply closed down. Liam Fox has made clear hints he would like to see it hand-over some of its dosh to the cash-strapped Ministry of defence.

But support for an independent DFID has been a central theme in David Cameron's rebranding of the Tories. Nobody wants to risk this. Finally, Mitchell has had to keep some of the developmentistas on side. After all, he will have to work with them if the Tories win the next election - and the sandal-wearers are not pleased about many of his remarks. My friend Alex Evans, who used to advise Hillary Benn, skewered Mitchell’s recent speech.

But speaking about Somali pirates on today’s radio, Mitchell made more sense than any minister has on this subject. He talked authoritatively about Somalia’s internal problems and the need to look comprehensively at the piracy problem. Sure, he didn't propose a novel solution – like trying to get a regional coastguard going – but I thought I was hearing someone morphing into a would-be minister. The prospect of real power has been know to induce this. Hopefully, it will now happen to more (currently too anonymous) Tory frontbenchers.