So the rumours about the UK Labour Party's strategy to drag itself out of a crisis of its own making have been proven right, with perennial safe pair of hands John Reid having been moved on to the Home Office after serving less than a year as defence secretary. A feisty Scot with a penchant for tobacco and Celtic Football Club, Reid arrived in May 2005 as a breath of fresh air after his predecessor Geoff Hoon - newly appointed Minister for Europe, by the way - had thoroughly oustayed his welcome at the head of the UK armed forces.
One of Reid's first actions as defence secretary was to host a drinks reception for defence journalists in the Ministry of Defence's magnificent Henry VIII wine cellar, where he voiced an ambition to improve the previously adversarial relationship between "us" and Whitehall. He gained a lot of respect for that, and his obvious delight at having secured the job he had always wanted was also encouraging to see. Likewise, it was on Reid's initiative that UK Minister for Defence Procurement Lord Drayson produced the MoD's Defence Industrial Strategy white paper, which could make a real and positive change to how the armed forces acquire, operate and support their equipment in the future.
The woes which have recently afflicted several of Labour's Cabinet ministers had not completely passed Reid by, however, with recent criticism having been pointed his way over the MoD's slow speed of response to the Royal Air Force's loss of a C-130K Hercules transport to enemy action in Iraq in January 2005. Continued opposition to UK involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq also persisted throughout Reid's tenure, but his passionate belief that British troops are making a real difference on the ground never waivered. He was also willing to admit when the MoD had got it wrong, recently approving a fuel tank safety upgrade to the RAF's deployed Hercules - an enhancement which will cost ｣600,000 ($1.1 million) per aircraft - and also extending a detachment of Harrier GR7A ground-attack aircraft at Afghanistan's Kandahar airfield into at least 2007. The latter decision was announced during one of Reid's last actions as defence secretary, while visiting British troops on the frontline in Afghanistan (pictured below).
So what next for UK defence? Des Browne - another Scot - also only spent one year in his previous position as chief secretary to the treasury, and arrives with no prior experience in military matters. Curiously though, he previously served as parliamentary private secretary to Adam Ingram, who will now serve beneath him as armed forces minister.
Browne will be required to get up to speed on his new defence portfolio in double-quick time, with 3,300 British troops to be in place in Afghanistan's Helmand province by July and tough decisions still to be made on numerous massive procurements, such as for the RAF's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft and the Royal Navy's two Future Aircraft Carriers. But perhaps given his treasury background Browne will find it easier to convince chancellor Gordon Brown to dig deep for defence? If today's Cabinet reshuffle is extended soon to include a change of resident in Number 10, maybe that wouldn't be such a terrible thing.
So it's good luck to Des Browne and to John Reid goodbye: I for one am sorry to see you go.