Does it matter where the Cabinet is held?

by Stephen Tall on August 4, 2008

One of the more bizarre headlines today was from the BBC, Cabinet ‘may go to West Midlands’:

Gordon Brown will hold his first cabinet meeting after MPs’ long summer break outside London – most likely in the West Midlands. A Downing Street spokesman said the gathering was set for 8 September.

Ministers will also be taking part in a range of other events in the region on the day to give them an opportunity to “engage” with the public.

The spokesman said the move was part of the government’s commitment to “listen and learn” from people’s experiences.

Let’s move beyond the easy quips about the cabinet ‘being sent to Coventry’, and ask ourselves is this a gimmick, or a move worth making?

Gimmick: it’s easy to dismiss it as mere tokenism. But, then, a surprising amount of tokenism ends up in the mainstream. It’s undoubtedly true that much of what passes these days for the establishment is London-obsessed, and imagines the other municpalities to be full of feral chavs (except perhaps for the nice parts of Leeds, Manchester or Birmingham). At least the cabinet convening there might force the media to recognise that political stuff happens outside the M25 other than at party conferences.

Worth doing: but, really, what difference does convening one meeting outside of London make? It’s not as if the cabinet will be open to the public to address. If No. 10 really wanted to be innovative, they’d make this a Town Hall meeting, and invite half a dozen randomly selected folk to put their questions to the cabinet on camera rather than in camera. All we’ll get from this is a press release and some photo ops to prop up a few Labour marginals.

If Labour is going to attempt localism, I’m all for it. But why can’t I help thinking this idea sprang forth not from any sense of liberal idealism but a cynical attempt to capture the regional media for some well-primed media exposure?