By Tim Montgomerie
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In my Sunday Telegraph column I return to the issue of the Right's representation inside the Cabinet:
"Fox was one of only three traditional Right-wingers in the Cabinet, the others being Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson. Cameron could have maintained the existing balance by replacing Fox with someone like David Davis, Chris Grayling or John Redwood. The fact that he chose not to risks feeding the Right’s sense of exclusion… Most voters believe that prison cuts crime and sentences are far too soft. They think taxes shouldn’t be raised in a recession – or at least not until waste has been eliminated from Whitehall – and want a Prime Minister who will cut the power of the European Union. At the moment, people ready to fight for these views, rather than merely voice them, are not well represented at the top of the Government."
I'm not the only one who feels this way. In his blog, yesterday, John Redwood wrote that "The right felt the old Cabinet grossly under-represented their strength and views" and that "the reshuffle does nothing to correct that feeling."*
This hope for more Righties in the Cabinet has been questioned today by two commentators and I thought it was worth responding to what they said.
- Matthew d'Ancona wrote in his SunTel column: "It was extraordinary yesterday to hear Right-wing Conservative MPs grumble about the ideological composition of the Cabinet now that Liam Fox has left its ranks. David Cameron’s freedom of manoeuvre is already limited by the necessities of Coalition: he is obliged to give Cabinet seats to a handful of Lib Dems. Beyond that, his only duty should be to appoint the most competent candidates – as he has with the promotion of Philip Hammond and Justine Greening. It is ironic that those politicians who sneer most loudly at quotas or affirmative action in other contexts are now demanding special treatment."
- Mary Ann Sieghart tweeted a similar message: "@TimMontgomerie: Interesting column but if you're against quotas for women, why are you in favour of them for the Right?".
Two quick responses:
- To Matt; competence is, of course, an important criteria and I'm pretty confident that the three names I touted (Davis, Grayling and Redwood) are very competent. Michael Fallon, Michael Howard or Peter Lilley would also easily tick that box. Competence can't, however, be the only criteria or we'd have a government of technocrats. Cabinet formation obviously has to meet other targets. One of them, in Cameron's mind, is clearly the representation of women and that's why the first thing three people close to Cameron told me this weekend was that Justine Greening was the fifth female Cabinet minister. I had noticed her gender! I don't disagree that a Cabinet will have better discussions if a good number of women sit around the table. I'd also argue that the discussions would be better if a good number of northerners, working class Tories and more traditional right-wingers were also present.
- To Matt and Mary Ann on the issue of quotas. This is just silly. I have not and do not propose a fixed-in-stone quota for representation of the Right. There is a difference between recommending quotas and being completely disinterested in the representation of a group's composition. The quality that navigates the grey area in between is called political judgment.
* In a second blog today John sets out what he means by right-wing.