The reshuffle won’t come before the Newark by-election takes place, and may not do for quite a while after, either. But whenever it comes, David Cameron will seek to square the following aims:
- Putting the best face possible on the team that must campaign for a Conservative majority over the next year.
- Keeping the continuity of appointments which is his natural inclination and which he tries to stick to (none of the top three Ministers have moved since 2010).
- Realising his “aspiration” of women making up a third of Ministers. “We still have a long way to go,” he said last year. “There aren’t enough women around the Cabinet table.”
- Finding what he thinks is the right balance between women and ethnic minority MPs – and the resolutely non-female and non-minority Tory backbenchers.
- Satisfying the 2010 intake, which now makes up almost half of the Parliamentary Party, while keeping former intakes content at the same time.
- Keeping the centre-right, which makes up most of the Conservative backbenches, happy. He needs it on side as the election approaches.
- Signalling that former Ministers can come back. He will have in mind the “innocents” – that’s to say, those who were doing a decent job, but were sacked anyway.
Ministers entitled to attend Cabinet are vulnerable in roughly the following order: Andrew Lansley, Sir George Young, Ken Clarke, David Willetts (for some reason), Eric Pickles, Sayeeda Warsi and Owen Paterson However, only the first two look set to leave. I doubt that any of the last three will be dismissed. All women entitled to sit round the table are likely to stay: the Prime Minister will have that “aspiration” in mind.
That isn’t to say that some Ministers won’t be moved. For example, Eric Pickles could become Leader of the House, were Grant Shapps to be moved out of CCHQ. (The latter, a former Housing Minister, could replace the former.) Or Justine Greening could take the post, and Andrew Mitchell return to his old job at DfID, though this must be extremely doubtful while his court case against is still in motion. The permutations are almost endless.
I wrote that the last reshuffle would be one for women, and got four out of my five tips right – Esther McVey, Nicky Morgan, Karen Bradley and the resolutely non-female Sajid Javid. (This success must be set against my many forecasting failures). But what Cameron should do is arguably more important than what he will do, so here are four principles to act on. I have tried to keep them within the bounds of realism.
- Communication matters: Too many people are entitled to attend Cabinet: like the growth in the payroll vote, the right to sit round the table is used to keep people quiet. But there is no sign that the Prime Minister is likely to reduce its size. That being so, he should use vacant places to promote the Conservative case. Ken Clarke should go, and Esther McVey replace him – becoming one of the Government’s main broadcasting faces and voices. Mike Penning should be used more, which he could be were he, say, to move to the Home Office to take over the immigration portfolio. If back stories are important, what about Paul Maynard? Why is Gavin Barwell, who understands the difficulties the party faces in London and can make the Conservative case there, secreted in the Whips’ Office?
- Keep the campaigning team: Were William Hague to move to CCHQ, the campaigning team would gain one of the few Conservative Ministers that voters like and respect, and one of the very few who sits for a seat north of Oxfordshire. It presumably won’t happen, because Cameron wants to keep his top three Ministers intact – and the Foreign Secretary wouldn’t move, anyway. This being so, Shapps should stay, and not be offered up as a ceremonial sacrifice if Newark goes pear-shaped. That wouldn’t be his fault. He is an enthusiastic campaigner. He gets new technology. He is helping to run an improved machine: the progress Ruth Davidson reports in Scotland on this site today is mirrored in England and Wales. In short, the Crosby/Shapps team is working, and there’s no point disrupting it unless to bring in a really big hitter.
- Hold on to the centre-right: That’s where the Party’s centre of gravity is, and that’s where the Prime Minister should pitch his shuffle. Liam Fox could complement Esther McVey on the airwaves and in the TV studios: that task might fit with being Leader of the House. If Willetts goes, Liz Truss, an Education Minister and daughter of a professor, should replace him. Michael Fallon could gain the right to attend Cabinet. Others whose names ought to be on any promotion list include Steve Barclay, David Burrowes, Therese Coffey, Margot James, Kwasi Kwarteng, Dominic Raab and Nadhim Zahawi – and, from the centre-left end, George Freeman, Richard Fuller, Ben Gummer and Damian Hinds. The “innocent” most easily restored, since he’s now been out of government for a while, is Nick Gibb.
- People for places: The presumption is that Greg Hands will become Chief Whip. There is no shortage of people who would make good whips: Tracey Crouch, John Glen, Andrew Griffiths and – as a sign that recent poachers can turn gamekeeper – Stewart Jackson. Douglas Carswell should go to CCHQ to play a big part in reviving and reinventing membership. Were David Lidington to leave the Foreign Office, Chris Heaton-Harris would be a good replacement: as a former MEP, he knows the Euro-ropes. As important as getting people in the right place is keeping them in the right place. Mark Francois, Robert Goodwill and Hugh Robertson have an feel for their departments: why move them? A feature of this site from the start is that it’s never listed Ministers who should be sacked, and I’m not going to depart from it now.
And finally. In the scale of things, reshuffles aren’t that important, which is why we write about them as little as possible. This summer’s or autumn’s won’t move the polls or shift votes – not at first, anyway. But having the right team matters, and next year is election year. This shuffle is Cameron’s last chance to put one in place.