At the risk of sounding aged, dull, blase, boring and complacent, I have
been scrutinising Conservative resuffles for more than thirty years. Yet there
is still excitement: still meat on the joint. This one had two unique
features. First, there were no leaks. That is remakable, given the need
to consult Nick Clegg. Normally, the Liberal Democrats – so unaccustomed to
government - leak anything and everything. Is it possible that they are
now learning political maturity? (Surely not).
The lack of leaks had
a further consequence. By Monday, the lobby journalists were not just
ill-tempered. They were feral. This influenced the coverage. Most papers
were determined to be negative: to see plots, conspiracies and malign
intent. They devoted a lot of frustration and ingenuity, in order to
miss the obvious point. This was not an ideological reshuffle. It was a
pragmatic one. In general, the Prime Minister sought to promote those
who had earned a higher rank and to encourage promising youngsters,
especially women. Promotions mean dismissals. Few PMs enjoy butchery,
and this one is no exception. He tried to concentrate on those who had
already enjoyed a reasonable innings; even so, some good men and women
have every reason to feel hurt.
Hardly anyone has heard of Henry
Bellingham, Charles Hendry or Oliver Henley. But they were all junior
ministers who discharged their duties competently and conscientiously.
If you were a Cabinet Minister, you would want people like that in your
team, because you could rely on them. There would be no great
excitements. No-one would ever say: "That Parly Sec of yours is the next
Leader but three". Nor would the phone ring at three in the morning,
with your private secretary saying: "I am very sorry to wake you,
Secretary of State, but Minister X has…"
Life is unfair; politics,
trebly so. Ministerial office is not a career. You serve at the PM's
pleasure, which is a fickle jade. Eventually, unless the electorate
dismisses the entire government, you are likely to be sacked with less
notice than a cleaning-woman. So there is only one way to behave. Enjoy,
enjoy, enjoy: take pleasure in your office while you have it. Do your
work to the best of your abilities. But do not invest your soul in
ministeriality. When the day comes for the summons to No.10, and you
hope against hope that it is for promotion, until you see how
embarrassed the PM is looking – then just put him at his ease, say how
much fun you have had, and stride out into the future with your head
It is excellent that the PM has rewarded some long-serving
ex-ministers with knighthoods. Others may look forward to future
Honours' Lists. But not only knighthoods: anyone who values decency in
public life should be delighted that George Young has been made a
Companion of Honour. In a sensible world, Sir George would have left the
front-bench three years ago, to become Speaker of the Commons, instead
of the wretched, snivelling, grovelling, worthless, contemptible Bercow.
Instead, he has been a thoroughly sound Leader of the House.
that: the Leader of the Commons usually ranks just below the great
offices of state. Yet George was not even a full member of the Cabinet.
He fell on his sword because David Cameron had too many Cabinet
Ministers. It was always likely that he would go this time, simply
because his job was needed for someone else; in the event, Andrew
Lansley. That was one change which had no damned merit in it. Does
anyone think that Andrew Lansley will be half as good as Sir George?
Anyway, the latter is now a CH, an award which might be thought superfluous,
when conferred on a man who already exemplified honour.
behaved so honourably. Nick Herbert has one outstanding quality. In the
proper sense of the word, he is an aficionado; he enjoys bull-fighting.
I can only think of one other Tory politician who is as committed to
that magnificent, life-enhancing spectacle: Tristan Garel-Jones (in his
case, 'Tory' may be a misnomer: he is sound on nothing else). Although
Mr Herbert had been in the Shadow Cabinet, he became a victim of the
Coalition, and had to make do with being a Minister of State – and a
Privy Counsellor. He took that badly: diddums. Now, still unpromoted, he
has resigned: no loss. The rumour is that he will leave politics. The
truth is that he was never properly in politics.
Chris Grayling was
another former member of the Shadow Cabinet who did not make the real
one in 2010 because of the need to find places for Liberals. Since then,
he has shown how a sound politician should respond to disappointment:
work. Over the past two years, he was won respect and admiration. The
same is true of Grant Shapps. Those two stalwarts have found the proper
route to promotion: earn it.
Another promotiee worth more notice than
he has received is David Jones, to be Welsh Secretary. In Wales, the
Tories are on the advance: eight seats and several juicy marginals. Mr
Jones is a sound fellow, and it is long since time that the party had a
Welshman in that office. As he finds his feet and his confidence, he
will be a shrewd voice round the cabinet table.
All these worthy
characters inevitably invite the contrast.
There is someone who attained
rapid promotion without any preliminary hard graft: Sayeeda Warsi. Over
the past couple of years, she had gone a long way towards confounding
the sceptics, until her recent public sulking and emotional blackmail.
She has behaved like Nadine Dorries in a headscarf. Despite the need to
incorporate minorities, she should have been sacked. After the way in
which she behaved, who is going to take her seriously?
the departures, there was one inevitable disappointment in this
reshuffle. Recent rebels cannot be promoted, so the splendid ninety-one
who stood out against the absurd Lords' Reform Bill have all been
back-squadded. This means nothing for Jesse Norman, Nadhim Zahawi, Penny
Mordaunt, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Rory Stewart and a host of other deserving
characters. If you are ever tempted to feel gloomy about the Tory
party's future, look at that list of rebel names. It is a roll of
honour. Reading through it is like drinking a glass of champagne.
good men did not rebel. One new Tory MP started his Parliamentary
career with a double handicap. He was pro-European, and he was Boris
Johnson's brother. Fortunately, Jo Johnson is young enough and sensible
enough to realise that the world has changed. He has no desire to follow
Ken Clarke and become the second last of the Eu-hicans. He also differs
from his brother, in that he has intellectual staying-power and moral
depth. Mr – Jo – Johnson should be taken seriously. He is now a Whip: an
That brings us to the second unique
aspect of this shuffle. Whips are rarely sacked. Although they may not
last long as Parly Secs, they are usually given a couple of years. This
time, five went, most notably Brooks Newmark, who always seemed a much
more plausible Treasury Minister than Chloe Smith. But the whirligig of
time brings its compensations. In the 1990s, Greg Knight was a
first-rate Whip. He has now been recalled to the Office while Mark
Francois, more recently an excellent Whip. has become a Minister of
No reshuffles are perfect. In the nature of things, they
always inflict disappointment on those who do not deserve it. My old
friend Alan Watkins always reminded us that politics was a rough old
trade. This weekend, fine men and women will know what he meant. Others,
mainly youngsters, whose time seems to have come, will banish that
bleak thought from their minds. Their time will come.