Peter Hoskin

The case for John Hutton as a New Labour hero

The case for John Hutton as a New Labour hero
Text settings

Ok, so identifying the heroes of the New Labour era may not sit well with CoffeeHousers - but I'd still recommend you read through the latest Bagehot column in the Economist, which does just that.  It identifies five figures from the past 12 years who have "done the state and country some serious and lasting service," and whose "virtues [are] not be clouded or cancelled by grave mistakes or misdemeanours".  They are: Lord Adonis, Donald Dewar, Lord Mandelson, Sir William Macpherson and Robin Cook.  James Purnell, Alistair Darling and, strikingly, Bill Clinton finish in the runners-up list.

You can debate the merits and demerits of those names all day long, but I'd rather suggest another person for the list: John Hutton.  

To my mind, the MP for Barrow and Furness, has, in a quietly competent way, achieved a great deal in government.  When at the DWP, he commissioned the Freud Review into welfare - and was its main champion, both inside and outside government, upon its release.  Although it was blocked by Gordon Brown at the time, that review set the groundwork which James Purnell built on during his spell in the DWP brief, and it established a broad political consensus around "workfare" policy.  Now that we face unemployment levels approaching 3 million, and almost 6 million on out-of-work benefits, it's clear that much more needs to be done.  But Hutton's work then is even more important in hindsight.

And then there was Hutton's brief spell as Defence Secretary.  This military history buff fought like few of his predecessors for more troops and better equipment to be sent to Afghanistan.  Again, many of his requests were blocked, and, still, much more remains to be done - but Hutton did manage to wring more resources for the military out of the government.  He's very highly regarded by every army type I've spoken with.  And he's been fighting their corner even since he stepped down from government.  A lot more people would rest a lot easier if he was still in the MoD.

Anyway, that's enough on Hutton.  What we need now is for someone to paraphrase Fareed Zakaria, and write the article, "What Brown got right".  Or maybe not.