— Mike Smithson (@MSmithsonPB) February 16, 2013
David Herdson assesses his survival chances
The Secretaries of State for Wales is amongst the most invisible of cabinet ministers. Partly that’s because the London media never gives as much attention to events outside the capital as within it but mainly it’s because he doesn’t have much of a job to do with the devolved powers now enjoyed by the Cardiff administration. He therefore has to do something out of the ordinary to push his name into the media. Being quoted as saying that gay couples cannot provide a “warm and safe environment for the upbringing of children” is an unorthodox, if effective, means for David Jones to do so.
It’s so unorthodox that it’s entirely possible that it could lead to his departure from cabinet if the cards fall wrongly for him. After all, a comment that a gay couple cannot provide a safe environment for children is not just an argument against same-sex marriage but against any gay person – and particularly a gay couple – having responsibility for children.
Those views would be incompatible with membership of the government and it’s unsurprising that the opposition and others have been quick to condemn them. Should we be backing Jones to be the next cabinet minister to leave? Ladbrokes now have him as 6/1 favourite while Stan James quote a more attractive, and more realistic, 12/1.
Why more realistic? Because there are a few question marks over the story and its ability to ‘run’. For a start, Jones’ comments are likely to have been a misspeak. His clarification and record do not point to a rampant homophobe but to a comment where he put together two different points – marriage exists to create (ideally) a warm and safe environment for bringing up children, and that gay couples cannot have children – and mixed them up to unfortunate effect. Whether or not we agree with even this pair of contentions, they’re far removed from the kind of homophobia being ascribed.
In addition, while he’s not apologised as such – though frankly it would have been better if he had – his later statements run so contrary to the interpretation put on what he said in his interview that he’s put himself well back into the mainstream. Unlike the furore that followed in Andrew Mitchell’s wake, there’s now only a small gap between Jones and his critics.
Also in contrast to the Mitchell affair, Jones’ comments afford fewer opportunities for critics and opponents to keep a narrative running. Mitchell ultimately went not because of what he actually said but because the damage his not going was doing his party. It was easy to shoehorn ‘pleb’ into just about any story and the government would suffer for it. By contrast, there’s no lingering and killer line in this matter that could provide the thread for a media narrative; there’s just less momentum.
Finally, there are other stories running that the media have or will commit more resource to. The horsemeat contamination scandal certainly has further to go and has led the news for several days now. That is where the pressure currently is. After that, Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation at the end of the month will provide the focus for the media narrative going into March as his successor is chosen. News editors simply aren’t interested enough in what an anonymous minister said on Welsh TV to give the story critical mass.
So, is he safe? Probably, but he is on a yellow card. While he should survive this incident, were anything else come out that casts him in a negative light, the ominous adjective ‘embattled’ would be unleashed.
Whether it will be depends on any number of factors, from Jones displaying greater verbal nimbleness in future interviews to whether he has vindictive enemies.
As is usual, Next Cabinet Member to Leave is a market in which to lay the favourite (if you could), or failing that, picking up the extended odds on others as the favourite comes in too far.