Ten points on the reshuffle so far:

  • Hague is back for the election as a senior voice from the North. “The Prime Minister should call in the Foreign Secretary and beg him (on bended knee if necessary) to perform his party a last great service – namely, to become its chairman,” I wrote two years ago, arguing that David Cameron needed Hague’s experience, wit, unflappability and, above all, northern credentials for the coming election campaign. “Mr Cameron would be justified in asking this war-weary soldier – whose background gives him an insight into those Midlands and northern marginals that the Conservative must hold and win – to charge once more into the breach and imitate the action of the tiger.”  Making Hague Party Chairman would have been a demotion too far, but moving him to Leader of the House is the next best move (or a better one) in the same good plan.
  • Is Philip Hammond a stop-gap Foreign Secretary? (And now the right’s main leadership candidate?) George Osborne is known to want to move to the Foreign Office after the election.  The looming logic of Hammond’s promotion is that he and Osborne will swap if Cameron is Prime Minister after next May.  (The likelihood of Sajid Javid going swiftly to the Treasury is thus reduced.)  In the meantime, how will the Foreign Office cope with a man who followed Michael Gove, two years ago, in saying that he would vote to leave the EU were a referendum held now?  Can Cameron count on Hammond’s loyalty to his relatively minimal renegotiation plan? And does not Hammond’s promotion boost his credentials as a leadership rival to Osborne?  (The new Foreign Secretary tends to lead the also-rans in our monthly polls of possible future leaders.)
  • This aim of this shuffle is to shape an election winning team…  An expected promotion for Esther McVey today, plus the trailed promotion of Liz Truss and other women Ministers, plus the possible return of Liam Fox, would highlight the strategic aim of the changes: to shape a team whose priority is to win an election (rather than govern the country – especially since the Coalition’s legislation-producing capacity has all but ground to a halt).
  • …Which means a cull of white, male, middle aged Ministers… By our count, David Cameron has removed 13 Ministers so far: one Cabinet Minister suggested to me last night that, on the one hand, this is actually fewer than expected; but that, on the other, the names are more senior than expected.  But look at the names again: Owen Paterson, Ken Clarke, David Jones, David Willetts, Sir George Young, Damian Green, Dominic Grieve, Greg Barker, Alan Duncan, Stephen Hammond, Andrew Robathan, Nick Hurd, Hugh Robertson…not a single woman among them to date.  Night of the long knives; night of the long wives – and, shortly, we will have knights of the long knives, since some of those who’ve gone will duly get their “K”: arise, Sir Alan?
  • …But not a slaughter of the Conservative Left.  But, at any rate, it is nonsense to write that the shuffle marks a cull of the Tory Left (which is Labour’s line – as they suddenly praise a mass of Conservative Ministers who they’d previously denounced).  Stephen Hammond is on the centre-right.  So is Andrew Robathan – a member of one of the main Conservative Eurosceptic dining clubs.  So is Alan Duncan, who is (or certainly was) a member of the No Turning Back.  So is Nick Hurd.  The Tory Left, like the Right, will be present in the rest of the reshuffle as it unfolds today.  That it is visible is simply a reminder of the buoyancy of its numbers amidst the Ministerial ranks.
  • Paterson’s sacking prepares a path for Fox’s return.  Tim Montgomerie mourns the sacking of the Environment Secretary this morning – but adds that he will be back to fight for Britain’s exit from the EU and for a cull of climate change targets (as well as badgers).  I agree with Tim.  Paterson is immensely hard-working, principled, loyal and (usually) right.  He was over how to handle flooding; he has a point, and more, on climate change.  The move is a mistake.  (I have to add that some in Paterson’s circle have been less than deft in their support for his cause during the last few months – and, in my view, must take some of the blame for his departure.)  With Paterson and David Jones gone, it is the older right that has lost out at Cabinet level.  Bringing back Fox would help to balance things up.
  • Grieve’s going eases the way for a Tory manifesto commitment to leave the ECHR.  Theresa May seems to want it.  So does Chris Grayling.  And so, it seems, does Downing Street.  Grieve’s principled belief in the convention (though he can be very critical of the court) was an obstacle to a manifesto pledge.  I would now expect it to come at about Party Conference time.  P.S: My former neighbour in Beaconsfield, like Jones, is one of nature’s gentlemen.  The Government seems to be losing a lot of them.
  • Will Greg Hands get the Chief Whip’s gig?  If he does, the appointment will be written up as a victory for Octopus Osborne.  If he doesn’t, it will be written up as a defeat.
  • It ain’t all over till the fat lady sings.  (Or the fat men complain).  Today’s appointment of women has been trailed to the point of exhaustion.  But I wonder if the point to watch for is Cabinet switches or swaps.  It would be surprising if there aren’t any – and that newcomers only fill the gaps at the Environment, Universities, the Chief Whip’s Office and the Ken Clarke post.  Watch these spaces.
  • Beware the revenge of Prufrock.  The sacking of the “pale, male and stale”: what matters is not whether Number Ten is briefing that line (which it presumably has more sense than to do), but whether the average Tory backbencher – who is certainly pale and male; I will pass on the last word – believes that this is what Cameron thinks of him. He is returning to where he began as Conservative leader: to the world of the A-List – or, rather, since most of those on it were perfectly good candidates, to what it was seen to represent.  Male, middle aged Cameron and Osborne must beware the post-election revenge of their male, middle aged colleagues.