The Tory reshuffle has started – sorta. Last night, it was announced that Chloe Smith and John Randall are stepping down from their roles as Parliamentary Secretary for the Cabinet Office and Deputy Chief Whip, respectively. Here are three quick thoughts about what these two changes, and those yet to come, mean:
- The fear factor. A number of people in Government will mourn the departure of Smith, who was said to have settled well after moving from the Treasury – and moving on from that Newsnight interview – to the Cabinet Office. So why’s she leaving, then? She gave the official reason on her Twitter account last night: “my constituency work has always mattered most”. But for the unofficial reason, you need look no further than Smith’s majority in Norwich North: 3,901 votes, all of which will come under heavy appeal from the very capable Labour candidate Jessica Asato. I wouldn’t be surprised if other ministers with slim majorities – especially Liberal Democrats – left to spend more time with their constituents ahead of the next election.
- Whither Mitchell? You may remember Randall as one of the main players in the whole Andrew Mitchell row: he received an email from someone purporting to be a bystander to what happened that night on Downing Street, and it’s said that he threatened to quit should Mitchell remain in Government. Again, there’s an official story behind his departure: he first offered to leave at the end of last year. But you wonder whether it’s got something to do with Mitchell. ConservativeHome has argued that the wronged former Chief Whip should be returned to Cabinet at the first opportunity. Is that opportunity now?
- A new face for the party? One of the ambitions of this reshuffle, and certainly the one you’ll hear most about from Government types, is to give the Tory ministerial team a new look and sound. Which it to say, less of the Conservicature – posh, white, public school-educated, men from the South East – and more women, ethnic minorities and Northerners, etc. So, look out for folk such as Sajid Javid, Esther McVey, Kris Hopkins, Liz Truss and Amber Rudd. But don’t keep your eye off them after the reshuffle. The question isn’t just whether they’ll be promoted, but whether the Tory leadership will deploy them on television and in front of other cameras, afterwards. The party won’t have much of a new face if few voters see it.
Anyway, best of luck to both Smith and Randall. ConHome will, of course, be reporting on all the reshuffle news as it comes in.