What are Owen Paterson and Liam Fox up to after this week’s reshuffle? It’s a question that barely needs asking, for we can already predict the answers. As Tim Montgomerie wrote for this website, Paterson is now “free to push climate scepticism and Brexit from the backbenches”. And Fox said himself that he’d turned down a diminutive Foreign Office role to deal with “the issues that matter most to me and my constituents in North Somerset… the economy, immigration and Europe.”
But it’s still worth noting: today appears to be the day when Paterson and Fox’s new work begins in earnest. The former Environment Secretary makes a more vigorous show of it, with an article in the Sunday Telegraph that attacks the “Green Blob” of green activists and corporate charities that he had to deal with in Government. But Fox is there too. He speaks briefly to the Sunday Times (£) about the possibility of European reform:
“‘What we have always warned about is that Juncker and Co are going to ignore the European elections and continue towards ever closer union,’ he said. ‘Anybody who has ever believed anything else is unbelievably naive.’”
Neither man is explicitly critical of David Cameron, but there looks to be some barbed wire in the undergrowth. Fox’s remarks are well removed from what he said about the Prime Minister’s European plan last year. And Paterson mentions Europe as well, in the context of being “proud to have achieved some renegotiations”. It’s almost as though he’s saying: yeah, good luck with that, now I’m gone. Which would certainly chime with the Sunday Times’s report that both men intend to “rough up” Cameron over the repatriation of powers from Brussels.
And there’s more, if you want to go looking for it. Paterson’s article praises both Australia’s Tony Abbott and Canada’s Stephen Harper for confronting the “Green Blob”, but only mentions our own Prime Minister in passing, without acclamation or adornment. He also chides the “so-called Liberal Democrats”.
Elsewhere, in the Sun on Sunday (£), Guido notes that “the badger slayer did not take his departure well, sounding off in Cameron’s face when given the news.”
“So what?” you might think. “Who would take their departure well?” But this week’s reshuffle does seem to have stirred up more disgruntlement than usual. By sacking Paterson and offering Fox a seat far away from the main Cabinet table, Cameron has created an Axis of Evangelism: two backbenchers who could – and may well hope to – speak for the Right of their party. By moving Gove away from Education, the Prime Minister has managed to disappoint not just the Right but also the modernisers. As James Forsyth puts it in the Mail on Sunday, “A disillusioned member of this group tells me that Gove’s treatment has resulted in ‘the removal of any vestiges of emotional loyalty to Cameron’.”
And even some of the ministers who were, technically, promoted aren’t too happy. According to the Sun on Sunday (£), Esther McVey staged a Downing St “sit-in” until Cameron relented to allow her into Cabinet meetings (The Sun has since retracted this story; see update below). Perhaps Paterson and Fox ought to have done the same.
Update: Paterson has found himself a new pulpit this Sunday. The MP has just joined Twitter:
Thanks for the goodwill messages this week. It hasn’t been all bad. My daughter got a first and http://t.co/Jii6AuwZjv voted me sexiest MP!
— Owen Paterson MP (@Owen_PatersonMP) July 20, 2014
Update 2: The Sun has since retracted its story about McVey, referred to in the final paragraph of the post above. Here is the apology from their Saturday 26th July edition:
“In an article ‘Esther’s Sit-in’ in the Sun on Sunday, we stated that Esther McVey MP refused to leave Downing Street until her demands for a new job were met, said farewell to her staff the previous day and spent £585 on a Vivienne Westwood dress to wear for the reshuffle. … In fact, Ms McVey accepted the job offered to her without disagreement and, while she spoke to staff ahead of the reshuffle, did not say goodbye. Her Whistles dress was seven years old and did not cost £585. We are happy to set the record straight and apologise to Ms McVey.”