Having reshaped his Cabinet substantially last summer – sacking two Cabinet Ministers in the process – David Cameron
is unlikely to do so again during this one. This is because to do so would
both risk destabilising his already fractious Parliamentary Party, and
offend his instinct to keep changes to his front bench to a minimum. From the Prime Minister's point of view, it makes sense to delay a substantial
Cabinet clearout until next summer, when a team can be put in place to fight the election in 2015.
Leaving the next big shuffle until later in the Parliament will also minimise any backlash from sacked Ministers, since they will rally round Cameron during the election run-up (that's the theory, at any rate). The claim that Sir George Young will stay in post for the time being would dovetail with such an approach. The Prime Minister's most likely reshuffle course, therefore, will be to restrict change to the lower ranks of the Government – but to promote to just below Cabinet level men and women who, in his view, are capable of making it to the top table next year.
Especially women. Remember David Cameron's opposition pledge to aim at making a third of his Ministers women by the end of the Parliament.
The promise was always a little ambiguous, and the Party is in coalition.
But Conservative women MPs won't have forgotten the pledge. (Neither
will Conservative male ones, for that matter.) Nor will the Prime
Minister himself, who is anxious about the Party's slide in ratings among women voters. Furthermore, those two Cabinet Ministers dismissed last year were both women: Cheryl Gillan and Caroline Spelman.
I suspect that the proportion of women on Cameron's Commons front bench will be larger than it is now once the reshuffle has taken place. The Prime Minister would do well to stick with rather than sack the women he has in Cabinet already. But if there were vacancies, the women Ministers below Cabinet level are: Helen Grant, Esther McVey, Chloe Smith, Anna Soubry and Elizabeth Truss. Cameron will have an eye to regional balance as well as political outlook if he is looking to promote one or more of them.
McVey and Truss probably top the list. McVey is good at presenting, is handling a difficult brief deftly (she is Minister for Disabled People at a time of spending retrenchment), and, uniquely, is a Tory woman Minister from the most crucial swing area of all – the north-west. Truss may have lost a battle over childcare policy with Nick Clegg, but she hasn't lost her standing in government: she fronted the case for Michael Gove's GCSE changes last week. Soubry may be promoted if Cameron and the whips want to please the Party's left and like the way she fires from the hip.
It is hard to find a definitive list of Parliamentary Private Secretaries, but the one I have lists the following: Harriet Baldwin, Therese Coffey, Margot James, Jessica Lee, Mary Macleod, Claire Perry, Amber Rudd, and Laura Sandys. And don't forget the Whips Office, which has three women members: Ann Milton, Karen Bradley or Nicky Morgan. Milton left a department to become a whip last time round, so my best bet is that at least one of Bradley or Morgan becomes a junior Minister at the shuffle.
Trying to make an estimate of which PPS's may become Ministers is a mug's game…but this mug notes in passing that George Osborne looks after his proteges. Perry worked for the Chancellor in opposition and Rudd is now his PPS: by my calculation, the former has been in post for slightly longer, has been running a vigorous anti-online pornography campaign, and may feel that her time has come. Macleod is a former Chairman of the Candidates Association (indeed, she still is, according to her website), and holders of that post tend to get promoted sooner or later.
If the Whips looking to promote someone whose stance is broadly rightish, they might plump for Coffey; if they was looking for someone from the other end of the Party, he might choose Sandys. Baldwin, James and Lee sit for seats from outside the south-east, which adds to their value in a Party weaker outside that region than it should be. The list of Conservative women MPs who aren't on the payroll is too long for me to list, but it will be shorter after this reshuffle – if, that is, those offered posts take them, which some may refuse to do (especially those in marginal seats).
Much of this won't go down well with all male Tory MPs. The problems that Cameron has with his Party are too well rehearsed for me to rehash all over again, but that the odds of reaching the front bench as a male backbench MP are very long doesn't help them. The Whips may seek to ease them by promoting MPs from pre-2010 intakes: every woman on the payroll than I've named, bar one, was elected three years ago. This piece has given us an excuse to re-run Carla Millar's portrait of ConHome's all woman Conservative Cabinet, the key to which is below.