By Paul Goodman
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"So after the smoke has cleared, we are left with…a figure of just
three male backbench Conservative MPs who will be appointed as Ministers
come the reshuffle". That's what I wrote on the afternoon of last year's EU referendum vote, conceding that another two places might become available in the whips' office.
How does this guesstimate look today?
I thought that at the most the Prime Minister might dismiss a fifth of Commins Ministers. Whether he might think so or not, this was a significant under-estimate. Over the last few days, David Cameron has dismissed roughly a third of them – thus opening up more opportunities for backbenchers to be promoted into Ministerial positions.
But only five male backbenchers have made the Government list I've seen, three from the 2010 intake: Matthew Hancock, Brandon Lewis, and Dr Dan Poulter, plus Oliver Heald and Michael Fallon. So as an unrewarded one put it to me, in the spirit of J Alfred Prufrock MP: "You don't get promoted as a new bloke unless you're a mate of George's, a mate of Eric's, or a doctor".
And two male backbenchers from older intakes have returned to the Whips Office: Greg Knight, who is back as a very senior Whip, and Robert Syms, who's serving as a more junior one. Michael Fallon, though a party Deputy Chairman, was technically not a member of the front bench. So I anticipated five male promotions from the backbenches overall – and seven took place.
So since there were so many sackings, but only two more male backbench promotions than my guess, who have filled the gaps?
Not backbench women: I can identify only two – namely Elizabeth Truss and Karen Bradley, up until her appointment the joint Secretary of the '22 (there will now be a rather interesting by-election, at least for those who care about these things). The answer is: PPS's. The Prime Minister likes his reshuffles to be orderly, so he promoted from their reliable ranks.
You may well ask why I keep banging on about the view and prospects of male backbenchers. The answer is because they're the people who hold Mr Cameron's fate in their hands. The typical Tory backbencher is a man and, despite the promotion of some of those first elected two years ago, from the 2010 intake.
When all is said and done, some 26 Commons Ministers have been sacked, a significant slice of the Conservative leader's former front bench team are still backbenchers – and most men elected in 2010 are too. I was told this morning that no MP who rebelled on the Europe referendum or Lords votes has been promoted.
Promote rebels, and backbenchers may think: "so rebellion doesn't mar my career prospects – I'll join in or carry on". Don't promote them, and they may feel there's nothing to lose: Catch 22.
No wonder the Prime Minister hates reshuffles: on that score, I've every sympathy with him.
I'm grateful to Jonathan Isaby, formerly of this parish, for information about numbers and outcomes. All correct information is his and any errors are mine.