I bumped into four MPs in Westminster yesterday. Three of them talked about the Tory reshuffle and one predicted it might come as early as next week. I had understood that it would not take place until Caroline Spelman’s inquiry had been completed. Whatever the truth on timing I thought I’d record my hopes now.
No return for Ken Clarke. Since last month my opinion on this has hardened as I was reminded of the ways in which Ken Clarke held the Major government to ransom. Once Mr Clarke is at the top table he’ll be an opponent of sensible and necessary action on Europe and welfare in particular. I fear that the way this story has been allowed to keep running means that the leadership does intend to bring him back. I think the party gets the best of him at present – as a big beast on the backbenches he has no significant influence on party policy but is an active and effective media player.
A new Party Chairman. Without suggesting that Caroline Spelman should leave the shadow cabinet I hope there’ll be a new Chairman in the run up to the General Election. The two leading candidates are Jeremy Hunt and Eric Pickles. The newly engaged Hunt is now thought to be favourite (and moving him would make it simple for Ed Vaizey to move up into the top Culture, Media & Sport slot). Eric Pickles remains my choice. He’d be a brilliant campaigner, a tonic for the grassroots and the perfect response to the Labour charge that the Tories are Toffs. Chris Grayling remains an outside bet although I understand he wants to stay at Work & Pensions. If you are a big gambler put your money on Sayeeda Warsi.
Keep Theresa Villiers. I made this case on 27th December.
Restore one of the ‘dissidents’. A few people have fallen out with the leadership over the last three years – notably Graham Brady, Mark Field and Patrick Mercer. One of them should be restored to the frontbench to show that there is forgiveness from the leadership. Graham Brady would probably be the most potent symbol of healing given that it was the lowest period of the Cameron leadership – grammarsgate – that saw him resign as Shadow Europe Minister.
Jobs for Michael Fallon, Greg Hands and Stephen Crabb. Few people have more authority on economic affairs than Michael Fallon. If, as is rumoured, Alan Duncan is for the chop I’d like to see last year’s ConHome Parliamentarian of the Year become our business spokesman. The backbencher most deserving of promotion is Greg Hands. Incredibly industrious he more than deserves a place on the frontbench. I’d also promote one of our three Welsh MPs, Stephan Crabb. His communication skills are top notch.
Protect The Indispensables. My Indispensables include Nick Gibb, John Hayes, Tim Loughton, Paul Goodman and Jim Paice. They may not get much attention but they are becoming/ have become masters of their briefs. In government their knowledge could be the difference between departments ticking along and really prospering. They have developed great relations with the key players in their sectors. They should be loved by the leadership for their indispensability and told as much.