It’s a pretty safe bet that if the European and local elections, and of course the Newark by-election, had been disasters for the Conservatives the reshuffle would have happened by now. The fact that it hasn’t says a lot. It was rumoured that it might take place next week, although the BBC’s James Landale thinks it may be delayed until July until the next EU Commission president has been sorted out. Why is that relevant? Because it might have an impact on whom we appoint to be our next European Commissioner. More on that in a moment.
Whenever the reshuffle comes it needs to be radical. There is no point in tinkering. David Cameron needs to make some eye-catching promotions, and maybe also some eye-catching sackings. This is his team for the election and he needs to promote some new, energetic, media-friendly faces to what is starting to look like a slightly jaded cabinet. I’d say Esther McVey, Mike Penning, Nicky Morgan (who already attends cabinet as Minister for Women), Michael Fallon and Greg Hands were the most likely tips for promotion to the top table. Hands seems destined to replace Sir George Young, at least if you listen to supporters of George Osborne. I don’t imagine Andrew Mitchell can come back due to his impending libel cases, but Liam Fox will hope that the time is ripe.
The black spot seems to have already been put on Andrew Lansley, but the identity of the other three casualties is less certain. Both Patrick McLoughlin and Eric Pickles are rumoured to be sitting slightly nervously by their phones, but surely the Prime Minister couldn’t get rid of both his ‘bits of rough’, could he? He’d be mad to do so as both are not only competent, but also thoroughly nice. Niceness is not a prerequisite to be a minister, but it helps.
We’re told that Chris Grayling and Owen Paterson are out of favour, but there would be a revolution on the right if either of those two were dispatched to political Siberia. Justine Greening is the one I would throw overboard, purely for her complete uninterest in the department she runs, but can Cameron afford to lose another woman from the Cabinet, even if he replaces her with another? Of the Ministers who attend Cabinet who aren’t full members, David Willetts and Francis Maude could be dropped without too much of a backlash, although both have done perfectly good jobs. They are long enough in the political tooth to realise that it would be nothing personal, and these things happen. I think.
Until the events of the last week I would have said you were mad if you thought Michael Gove would leave the Department of Education. I’m less sure now, although quite where he would go, I’m not sure. Leader of the House? I can’t see it personally, but stranger things have happened. Ask Geoffrey Howe.
Could William Hague retire? If he doesn’t, it will mean that the top three jobs in the main offices of state will have had the same incumbents for the full five year term. I doubt whether this has ever happened before in recent political history.
So all in all, Cameron has a nightmare ahead of him. And he knows it. Very few reshuffles please everyone and this one certainly won’t. Assuming it hasn’t happened by this time next week, I might look at some of the lower ranks.
There is still much speculation about the identity of our next European Commissioner. Whoever it is is unlikely to be named until the identity of the new European Commission President is known. The British Government is very keen that whoever we choose as our commissioner should get one of the top economic portfolios. I am told by someone who knows about these things that this is far more likely to happen if we send another woman to Brussels. Here’s an idea: why not think about nominating Theresa Villiers for the role? She was an MEP for a number of years and knows the Brussels machine. She’s solid on reform, and dry as dust on economic issues. Just a thought.
Many moons ago, I worked in the ports industry. It seems that the Prime Minister has made an enemy of the entire British ports industry – apart from the Port of Liverpool. On a visit there this week, he said this in a speech:
“I think there’s some major investments going on in Liverpool that will make a big difference. I’ve just seen for myself at the Port of Liverpool the new container terminal and also what’s happening in terms of passenger ships. Those two things together are really important in terms of re-balancing the economy. On the passenger ships it means that cruises can start here in Liverpool with all the iconic brilliance of the city on show to people who want to go on a cruise ship. Much more importantly the expansion of the Port of Liverpool being able to take the biggest container ships in the world, the ones that go through the widened Panama Canal – this is a massive re-balancing of the economy because instead of goods being imported in Southampton or Tilbury and then shipped on road and rail up to the North West, you know the North West will be the hub.”
This has gone down like a whore in a nunnery with executives at Southampton, Tilbury and Felixstowe, as you can imagine. Indeed, they are spitting blood. They can hardly believe that Cameron is so badly informed, and has effectively put in jeopardy some of the huge amounts of inward investment that is being placed on the east and south coasts. Bearing in mind that Thurrock and Southampton are marginals, it’s a crass mistake to have made. Possibly not on the scale of Ed Miliband’s recent performance in Swindon, but not far off. If I were still a ports lobbyist I think I’d have just picked up two or three new clients. Of course this is mostly down to the interfering, meddling hands of Michael Heseltine. It was he who got the government to put £15 million into improving port facilities in Liverpool. After the hundreds of millions wasted on that port in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, you’d have thought that Heseltine might not want to pour good money after bad. But then he’s always been profligate with public money. A lion never changes its spots. Or something like that. I’ve never understood why Tory governments pour millions into Liverpool. Maybe it’s a guilt thing. It can’t be for political gain, can it?
Gordon Brown has risen from the political grave this week. For some unfathomable reason, he chose to accept an invitation to make an address to the Parliamentary Press Gallery. He scowled his way through questions after making a speech on Scottish independence in which he managed to annoy both Cameron and Alistair Darling. He also made a similar speech at the LSE. So what’s he up to? The Sun’s Kevin Schofield has suggested that he wants to be Scotland’s first Labour Prime Minister. Frankly, if the Scots are mad enough to go their own way, they and Brown will deserve each other.
Andy Wilson won’t be a name familiar to most readers of this site, but without him, this site may not exist today. And, very sadly, I attended his funeral on Tuesday. Andy died recently from cancer at the terribly young age of 54. He handled many of Michael Ashcroft’s investments including my company Biteback and also ConservativeHome. I first met Andy back in 2006 when I had the idea of launching Total Politics magazine. I went to see Lord Ashcroft to see if he would back it. He was very enthusiastic, and suggested I took the idea further with the man who handled many of his investments. His name was Andy Wilson. Right from the off, Andy became a confidant and a business guru, but also quickly became a friend. But more than anything else he was an enthusiast. He didn’t come from the world of politics or publishing, but was fascinated by both. He was a man of ideas and positivity. He understood a company balance sheet like no one else I have ever met, and was able to explain basic accounting issues in a way that even an accounting ignoramus like me could easily understand.
Above all, Andy was a people person. He understood the power of motivation and certainly knew what motivated me. He had the power to make you feel good about what you were doing, even in difficult times. And believe me, when you launch a political magazine at the beginning of a recession, there are difficult times to go through. Even when I had difficult news to impart to him, I would always leave the room feeling much better than when I went in, and there aren’t many people I can say that about.
Everyone thinks that the Political Book Awards was my brainchild. It wasn’t. It was Andy’s. And next year, I want to name an award after him. He was a lover of books, and in his eulogy yesterday we learned that, on a family holiday at he age of 14. Andy polished off 15 books in 14 days. I would always send him every single book published by Biteback. Every so often he’d send me an email saying “loved that book” or was “mystified as to why you took that one on”, and he’d also come up with ideas as to authors we might approach. But it was always done in a spirit of helpfulness. He was always optimistic and positive.
I still can’t believe that I won’t see him again. But when I think of him, I will always think of him with his infectious grin. Andy, what a very special man you were. Are. I don’t think you could have possibly comprehended what a massive hole you would leave in the lives of all who knew you. Rest easy, my friend.
You can read my full tribute to Andy here.