- It was a skilful shuffle in conventional terms… It cannot fairly be claimed that the Left won at the expense of the Right, or vice-versa. Owen Paterson and David Jones left the Cabinet, but so did Ken Clarke and David Willetts. Liz Truss and Michael Fallon came in, but so did Nicky Morgan and Matthew Hancock. Nor can it reasonably be argued that David Cameron coddled his chums: two early Cameron leadership supporters, Greg Barker and Andrew Robathan, were dispatched to the backbenches. Nor does it stand up to say that the new Cabinet appointees aren’t up to the job, though some of the promotions are certainly rapid. Liz Truss is a driven, serious, bright liberal. Stephen Crabb is an able diplomat. I do not agree that because Nicky Morgan is personable it follows that she is weak. The presentation of Michael Gove’s reforms will change, but the substance will endure. And, in any event, she has the two Goveite Nicks (Gibb and Boles) on hand to help. Elsewhere, Esther McVey presents deftly. Greg Clark thinks lucidly – and acts wisely.
- …Crafted with an election in mind… Communication matters, I wrote in May. Keep the campaigning team. Hold on to the Centre-Right. Match people to places. All this advice, for better or worse, was not flouted. Mike Penning joins Esther McVey to help make the Conservative case. Grant Shapps stays – and William Hague comes in to join the campaigning team, as I have long recommended, but from the superior vantage of Leader of the House. Priti Patel is in – this site’s loss is the Government’s gain – and Therese Coffey is too. There are some marvellously suggestive Ministerial pairings – Patrick McLoughlin and John Hayes; Theresa May and Penning; Iain Duncan Smith and Mark Harper. (The restored Harper is there to help the department run smoothly, a role formerly occupied by Mark Hoban.) Above all, male Conservative MPs can’t justly complain, now we see the whole picture, that they have been treated with contempt. Gibb is back. In comes Julian Brazier, who first entered the Commons in 1987, to Defence. Brooks Newmark and Tobias Ellwood finally get their Ministerial breaks.
- …But it struggled with a problem that David Cameron seems fated to wrestle with: women… How he has striven during this reshuffle! Before it, there were three women members of the full Cabinet. Now there are five. Before it, another was entitled to attend. Now, one more can be added to that total. In come Coffey, Patel, Amber Rudd, Claire Perry, Penny Mordaunt. Cameron cannot be far off his aspiration of a third of his Ministers as women. But the more he toils, the tougher it gets. Tokenism, cries Fraser Nelson of the Spectator, from the Spectator. Tokenism, calls Rachel Sylvester, from the Times (£). The Right wants promotion on merit. The Left wants a change of culture – for Westminster to transform its atmospherics to those of a modern corporate firm. Cameron’s party is fiercely if not always fairly scrutinised – its candidates, its selections, its culture, its jokes. This lobby won’t like the comparison, but it’s curiously like some Eurosceptics. For the latter, nothing short of Out will do. For the former, nothing short of all-women shortlists is enough. Concessions provoke more demands.
- …And its efforts to do so lacked conviction and authenticity… It would unquestionably be right to object that these comings and goings pass most voters by. They neither know nor care about the quiet advancement of Team Osborne (Perry and Rudd promoted; Hancock entitled to attend Cabinet), the return of Harper, or the Conservative preoccupation with women. They don’t read the Spectator or Times or this site. (Lord Ashcroft has written that there the Tory problem is with all voters, not female ones: Downing Street and CCHQ disagree.) What the electorate gradually builds up over time, though, is a shrewd sense of politicians’ motives: what they’re in it for; what drives them; whether they mean what they say. And what this reshuffle may suggest to them, as part of the greater whole of modern politics, is that presentation tops substance. Reshuffles aren’t possible without sackings. In one sense, those who have gone therefore have no reason to feel aggrieved. But in another, most have every right to, because merit appears to have had nothing much to do with whether Ministers stayed or went.
- …Symbolised by the zany appointment of Michael Gove as Chief Whip. Consider the case of two Ministers. The first I pick almost at random. Nick Hurd is a toiling, committed, popular, intelligent man who was committed to his work as Minister for Civil Society. He was fired. The second selects itself. One can scarcely run into a Conservative MP without him or her complaining about Helen Grant, the Minister for Sport. She is staying. The criticisms may be as unfair as they are persistent. But they cut to the heart of the matter. Most Tory MPs know the Party has to change. They support what needs to be done – for example, the toil of winning more ethnic minority votes: a leitmotif of this site. What frustrates and provokes them is when short-term gambits harm the Government’s long-term effectiveness. Polling suggests that Michael Gove is unpopular. So this reforming outward-facing Minister is demoted and bundled into a job that has always been a backroom inward-facing post. If he’s to do it, can he cope? If Greg Hands is instead – while Gove broadcasts to the nation – why make the move at all?
The outward show of the shuffle was the pyrotechnics of the Wizard of Oz: lights, announcements and (in this case) women. But behind the stage under a curtain were two privately educated white middle aged men scrabbling to project an image of change – plus, of course, a real Wizard of Oz. This looks like Lynton Crosby’s shuffle as much as Osborne’s or even Cameron’s, if not more so. To say it was dumbed down is less a criticism than a description of the way we live now.
However, Crosby cannot take responsibility for the most ominous feature of the shuffle. Yesterday morning, Liam Fox was an ally of the leadership. This morning, he will no longer be so. The botched offer to him of a non-Cabinet attending post was a pippin of epic tactlessness. Fox’s statement after his meeting with Cameron struck a note of defiance. The centre-right of the Party has long lacked a backbencher leader outside the ’22. It may now have found one.