With reshuffle speculation getting out of control it is now expected that the much-anticipated Tory reshuffle will happen sooner rather than later, "within days" according to one senior aide to the Tory leadership.

The biggest nonsense award goes to those writing that the Deputy status for William Hague is a snub to George Osborne.  William Hague is one of the party’s biggest beasts and it’s good news that he’s taking a larger political role as he winds down his outside interests.  But noone should think that George Osborne isn’t going to continue to be the second biggest force in the parliamentary Conservative Party.  Titles aren’t everything.  Prescott was Tony Blair’s Deputy in name but was never as powerful as Gordon Brown.  And that’s not just because he occupies the biggest job in the shadow cabinet (after leader), it’s because he remains very close to David Cameron and makes many of Project Cameron’s biggest political judgments. 

One new suggestion is that Jeremy Hunt and Caroline Spelman might ‘job swap’. If Caroline Spelman doesn’t then receive a clean enough bill of health from the ‘nannygate’ inquiry she’ll step aside from Culture, Media and Sport and be replaced by Ed Vaizey from within that team, so requiring no second big reshuffle. For the record – and a fair number of people are suggesting otherwise in threads – I believe in the integrity of Mrs Spelman and hope and expect her to be exonerated.  See ConHome’s 7th June 2008 post.  There is a separate issue of whether she could continue as Chairman.  You can register your opinion on that question in this poll (which closes at 3pm today).

Of all the pieces written on the reshuffle this piece by Fraser Nelson is the best.  He writes about one of the most under-written influences on David Cameron: Andrew MacKay MP.  On Mr Mackay’s own website we learn this: "Andrew is Senior Political and Parliamentary Advisor to David Cameron. Andrew works out of the Leader’s Office, attending all key meetings, including the Shadow Cabinet.  At his appointment David said that he wanted someone of Andrew’s experience to be by his side overseeing relationships with the Parliamentary party and beyond."  Here is the key extract of Fraser’s article:

"Those in Norman Shaw South [Cameron’s Nest] may laugh at the more fevered reshuffle speculation in the press, much of which strikes them as demonstrable nonsense. ‘But the troops don’t think it’s nonsense,’ explains one frontbencher. ‘And that’s the problem’. Email is no substitute for direct contact. The geographic dislocation of the Tory office layout has broken lines of communication. All of this feeds paranoia and amplifies the Chinese whispers echoing around Parliament. Many of these whispers can be traced to remarks that Andrew Mackay was making too loudly over dinner one evening recently — to the effect that Mr Cameron had decided to sack a senior frontbencher the day after the election. You might imagine these remarks to be of little consequence — Mr Mackay being only a former whip with almost no public profile. But those aware of his real significance in the party today would have craned their necks to listen, for he occupies an increasingly important and little-documented role. In the words of one shadow Cabinet member, he has become ‘something of a Rasputin figure’. Officially, he is ‘political and parliamentary adviser to the leader of the opposition’ — an intriguing title which gives him a passport to Mr Cameron’s morning meetings. But his real role is much broader. ‘Some time ago, David said to him: “I want you to be my Willie”,’ one MP tells me — referring, of course, to the service the late Lord Whitelaw supplied to Baroness Thatcher. ‘That’s Mackay’s skill: he can sniff the air, tell which tribes are forming, who’s up to mischief. He reports back to Cameron.’ Hence his potential relevance as a reshuffle rune-reader. Mr Mackay can advise as to which groupings need to be kept sweet, and which frontbenchers can be safely disposed of. His role does not require him to be popular, and his friends say he is happy in the shadows and ‘likes his holidays too much to join the front bench’. While his influence is rather mysterious, it is not seen as malign. As the leader’s office operates in a separate orbit from Parliament, Mr Cameron needs the best intelligence he can get."

Andrew MacKay is already a powerful figure within the Conservative Party. He’ll be a major power in a Tory government, too.

Tim Montgomerie