As much as reshuffles offer an opportunity to score points and send new messages by making shiny promotions, they also carry the risk of driving a wedge between a Prime Minister and those he has sacked.
A week on from sackings day, I thought it would be worthwhile to run down those who already exhibit some potential to cause problems for David Cameron:
- Owen Paterson. As Tim predicted, the former Environment Secretary was always likely to use his newfound place on the backbenches to campaign on controversial matters, particularly climate change. Yesterday saw his opening salvo, writing in the Sunday Telegraph that he was right to take on the Green Blob of charities, pressure groups and celebrities. By implication, this suggests the Prime Minister ought to have recognised that correct direction – Paterson does note that “every prime minister has the right to choose his team to take Britain into the general election”, but that’s different to saying he has chosen the right one. Expect more on: greenery and the EU.
- Ken Clarke. He may come from a very different political tradition than Paterson, but the tactic the outgoing Big Beast deployed in yesterday’s Observer issue was almost a carbon copy. While declaring himself a “great fan” of the Chancellor, he wasn’t slow to cast doubt on the solidity of the recovery – or to lambast the Prime Minister’s EU strategy as an effective surrender to “headbanger” eurosceptics. Expect more on: probably everything, going on his form while he was a minister – but particularly an attempt to keep Britain in the EU at any cost.
- Damian Green. Green will have shaken up some in Downing Street with his announcement in today’s Telegraph that he intends to take up the cudgels for more grammar schools. This has long been a sore spot for the leadership, particularly when Graham Brady was campaigning on the issue, but they were able to soothe it somewhat with Gove’s revolutionary approach to education. Will his replacement be able to maintain her predecessor’s reassuring air of zeal? If Green re-establishes Brady’s Parliamentary Friends of Grammar Schools, he will find plenty of support – and that support may grow further if education reform is seen to slow or falter. Expect more on: grammar schools and education reform.
- Dominic Grieve. As I noted last week, the lawyer in Grieve was concerned in government with the legal principles involved in disobeying or ditching the ECHR – given that he told Sky News yesterday that stance may have cost him his job, it’s unlikely that he will abandon it now. Coming at the topic from a professional standpoint rather than just a dogmatic one (pace Ken Clark) may make him a more awkward thorn to ignore – notably Jack Straw tried at last week’s PMQs to make his sacking a question of judgement on the Prime Minister’s part. Expect more on: ECHR, legal consistency and the rule of law.
It’s an unusual reshuffle that manages not only to peeve those who were sacked but also one of those who was offered a job. And yet, here we have him:
- Liam Fox. It’s still unclear where the pre-briefing about Fox becoming Foreign Secretary came from. If it originated inside Downing Street then they made a horrible error, and whatever its source it served to exacerbate the insult in an offer that he would never have accepted in the first place. While his displeasure is now widely known, he hasn’t yet let fly fully at the Government – giving a brief line to the Sunday Times about how “naive” EU reformers are but little else specific. Expect more on: Europe, immigration and….who knows? That may be the point – like a Scottish scarlet pimpernel he could strike at any time, which magnifies his potential impact.
That’s the tally so far, but it could still grow, of course.