Cabinet Reshuffle is Underway
Tonight acccording to all informed sources David Cameron is finalising the details of a wide-ranging Government reshuffle. Unlike the last Labour Governments (which had almost annual reshuffles), David Cameron has avoided a major reshuffle until now, preferring to allow Ministers to get to know and master their briefs. As a result the key figures in the Coalition administration have become household names, unlike most of their Labour Shadows.
Now that Cameron is embarked on a reshuffle commentators are keen to stress the many audiences he should aim to please. Some think that pleasing the back-benches is key, others that appealing to the Conservative core voters is important, and still others that impressing the media counts. In my view all of these are poor reasons for any movement of personnel. The Prime Minister’s two main aims, I venture to suggest, should be to get people into key posts who will be effective Ministers with a clear view of what they want to achieve AND be able to communicate their vision to a sceptical public. Too many Ministers at present either seem to be going through the motions or are unable to articulate in simple terms what they and the Government are there to achieve. That is emphatically NOT the case for William Hague (at Foreign Affairs), Michael Gove (at Education), Iain Duncan-Smith (at Work and Pensions), and Eric Pickles (at Communities and Local Government). They should therefore remain in post. Others such as Philip Hammond (Defence), Justine Greening (Transport) are relatively new in post and undergoing important work in their departments. I would therefore not move them either.
That still leaves a number of key posts. George Osborne has bombed in the last 6 months. His credibility as Chancellor was greatly undermined by the disastrous presentation of the last Budget and the subsequent series of U-turns. However, moving him at this stage could have wider consequences for the Government’s economic credibility and who would replace him? There is no appetite for a change of economic direction at the top of Government and therefore Osborne will remain in post.
Andrew Lansley (Health) had a battering during the passage of the NHS Reform Bill. However, he understands his health brief like no other on either side of the Commons. Jeremy Hunt (Culture, Media and Sport) had a torrid time over his contacts with the Murdochs and is probably expendable. Caroline Spelman (Environment) botched the Forestry Bill, was forced into a U-turn and has hardly been seen since. Of the remainder, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland Secretaries are little known outside their own nations. The same is true of Andrew Mitchell (International Development), Chief Whip (Patrick McLoughlin), Leader of the Commons (Sir George Young), Leader of the Lords (Lord Strathclyde) and Attorney General (Dominic Grieve). That just leaves Home Secretary Theresa May, Ken Clarke at Justice, Vince Cable (Business, Universities and Skills), Party (Co) Chairman Baroness Warsi, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, and of course Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. If the Coalition is to survive Clegg cannot be moved, whatever anyone’s private opinion of him and Danny Alexander works well as part of the Treasury team and will stay in post.
Before discussing the likely changes I suggest that Cameron should make a few structural changes. Responsibility for Universities should be moved from Vince Cable’s Business Department to Michael Gove’s Education Department. It would make sense to have all levels of education together under one Secretary of State and the University sector is in need of Gove’s reforming and liberalising zeal. Caroline Spelman’s Enviroment Department should be combined with the Climate Change element of Ed Davey’s Department with Davey remaining in charge. Energy should then be included with Cable’s Business Department and the new brief given to the pro-business Lib Dem, David Laws. To keep the balance Michael Moore would have to be replaced as Scottish Secretary by a Conservative.
It seems that Andrew Mitchell is to be moved to be the new Conservative Chief Whip freeing up International Development which could be given to Vince Cable. Patrick McLoughlin (former miner and Midlands MP) is just the sort of no-nonsense man who could make an effective Conservative Party Chairman but only if he is given a proper remit and is not job-sharing with a “co-Chairman”. Ken Clarke should be moved sideways to become Leader of the Commons and be replaced by Chris Grayling at Justice (although he is not a lawyer). Maria Miller would be a good replacement for Andrew Lansley at Health, and Grant Shapps could replace Hunt at Culture, Media and Sport.
I would appoint Monmouth MP David Davies as the new Welsh Secretary to replace Cheryl Gillan. Davies is a Welsh speaker who also serves in the Welsh Assembly. He is well regarded as a campaigner and hard worker, and would do a lot for the image of Conservatives in Wales were he to be appointed.
Theresa May will stay in post and Baroness Warsi could replace Lord Strathclyde as Leader of the Lords.
There are a large number of good people in the 2005 and 2010 entries who should be brought into junior and middle ranking Ministerial posts to prepare them for the next major reshuffle in a few years time. This will be good for the Conservative party as a good number of these are women and minority ethnic members. They should be given remits to get out in the country and on the airwaves to sell the party and its policies to the nation.
David Cameron has a big opportunity to get round pegs into round holes with this reshuffle but it is a big risk for him and for the Coalition. If he gets it right the Government will become more effective at taking the fight to Labour and the Government’s message to the country. It will be fun to see how wide of the mark I am tomorrow!