The Reshuffle looms
It’s that time of year when every Minister of State, and quite a few Parliamentary Under Secretaries, start pushing themselves forward with a single aim of getting two people to notice them: the Prime Minister and the Chief Whip.
Why? Because they know that in two months’ time there will be a reshuffle, and it’s likely to be the last before the election. They also know it’s probably going to be quite a radical reshuffle with five or six Cabinet departures and promotions. There’s also another dead certainty. If you’ve got a pair of knackers the odds on you being promoted to the cabinet are near to zero unless your surname is Hancock. Or perhaps Michael Fallon.
If these things were done on merit Fallon would be a shoo-in for a top Cabinet job, but if that were the case it’d have happened last time around. No, this is going to be a reshuffle in which several women get promotion, and in each case I think it will be fully merited. Who are they? Esther McVey, Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan and possibly the much tipped (not lest by herself) Liz Truss.
Assuming the current female Cabinet ministers remain in situ, that would bring the total number of women at the top table to eight if they are all promoted. Three of the four are Under-Secretaries rather than Ministers of State, so it would be a stratospheric – and some would say risky – thing to do to promote all of them, but in the run-up to the election David Cameron may calculate that he needs media friendly faces around the cabinet table.
Of course, if five or six people come in, that means five or six people must leave. I don’t buy the rumours that Grant Shapps will be sacrificed at the altar of George Osborne’s Government takeover. He will be rescued, if he needs to be, by the Prime Minister, but a move from the party chairmanship is probable. That’s not a reflection on him, but a new face who can work hand in glove with Lynton Crosby is on the cards. And the face probably belongs to Michael Fallon. Who else might get the chop? I hate putting the black spot on people, but Ken Clarke, Andrew Lansley and Sir George Young must all fear the worst.
I think it is also entirely possible that William Hague might decide to free up the Foreign Office to give the Prime Minister a little room for manoeuvre at the top. Hague has enjoyed being Foreign Secretary more than I suspect he thought he would, but he may be hankering after a more normal life after four years of travel. I wouldn’t bet my house on it, but you never know in politics.
At the beginning of this piece I suggested that lots of junior ministers would be prostrating them in front of the Chief Whip. Actually, they needn’t bother. Traditionally, it is certainly the Chief Whip who decides on most junior appointments, which are then rubberstamped by Number Ten. Not under this Prime Minister. I’m told that the chief whip was barely consulted about the last reshuffle and the whole thing was done by Number Ten. Bizarre, but apparently true.
Of dogs and vomit
Someone said by returning to do this diary, I am like a dog returning to its own vomit. Mr Goodman can be a persuasive chap, so I am coming back to do a weekly diary between now and the Euro-elections. It may not be as long as it used to be (the problems of old age, eh?) but nonetheless I hope it hits the spot. See, two double entendres in one sentence. You can’t say fairer than that. I like to provide good value. And to those who love to complain about the smut in my column [no, stop it – Ed], the more you whinge, the more I’m likely to be smutty. If you don’t like it, feel free not to read, or collect your refund at the exit. Bye bye UKIPpers and BNPers.
Clegg and Farage: my part in their debate
On Wednesday night I had the unique experience of hosting the pre-debate build-up and post-match commentary for the Clegg v Farage contest. And quite an experience it was too. I thought both Farage and Clegg put in strong performances and it was a real debate between two political leaders who were at the top of their game. The polls showed a decisive victory for the UKIP leader, but I have to say I thought it was a lot closer than that, not that I hold any candle for Clegg or his Europhilic views. In political terms I think both of them got out of it what they wanted and needed to. For LBC it was a massive night, and I think we surprised a few people with the show we put on. Eat your heart out, BBC. It will be interesting to see if the BBC debate next week generates as much interest.
It was quite clear after the debate that it engaged a lot of people in politics, so well done to everyone involved for that. I think it also put beyond doubt the fact that there will be pre-general election debates between the party leaders. I think that there is a very strong case for the UKIP leader to be included in one debate. My preferred scenario would be one Miliband v Cameron heads to head debate and a second debate involving any party leader whose party puts up candidates in 95 per cent of seats across the United Kingdom. So, yes, that could include the leader of the Green Party. This idea that only parties whose leader could potentially be Prime Minister should be included is a complete red herring.