Readers of this site know who its first Editor was. Some will be less familiar with its first deputy Editor, Sam Coates, because he has been away from it for a few years – working for a conservative leader who first took office without a majority, later gained one, and has emerged as a dominant leader.
I refer of course to Stephen Harper in Canada. Harper is a very different kind of conservative from David Cameron – he emerged from what was the country’s rough equivalent of UKIP – but his journey from minority to majority is not dissimilar. Sam went off to serve as a special adviser to John Baird, Harper’s former Foreign Minister who was, with the brilliant Jason Kenney, one of the troika who restored the fortunes of the Centre-Right in Canada.
Sam returned to the pages of ConservativeHome, pre-election, to reflect on his experiences abroad – and, since Cameron has now “done a Harper”, his article has an uncanny prescience. “When Tim Montgomerie and I first visited Harper’s team back in 2007, they really felt like, and were, insurgents in government. Outsiders to Ottawa. A band of brothers,” he wrote.
Whatever else may be said about the Conservatives since 2005, we have not exactly been a united band of brothers – insurgents in government and outsiders to Westminster chorusing “all for one and one for all”. It would not be productive to probe every quarrel and seek to establish blame, but may be useful to point out that one of the main reasons for disunity has vanished overnight. We couldn’t be united insurgents against the Left because we were in coalition with a part of it – the Liberal Democrats. This is no longer so.
So as ConservativeHome wrote in this sensational election’s aftermath, Cameron’s victory has opened up a once-in-a-generation opportunity to heal the wounds that have afflicted the Party since 2005 – indeed, arguably since the fall of Margaret Thatcher herself.
On the one hand, Cameron’s critics must now recognise that his victory gives him an authority he didn’t have before. For the first time, he is an election-winner: indeed, on one measure he is now the Tories most electorally successful leader since Thatcher herself, having fought two elections and lost neither of them. He is entitled to a new respect.
On the other, Cameron has gone from being a Prime Minister with a comfortable majority to a Prime Minister with a slender one. To make his Conservative Government workable, he must lead his Party in a more collegiate style – governing with the whole of his top team, not just the Chancellor; working with the 1922 Committee; allowing Tory MPs even more of a policy input (our advice for a very long time).
To this end, we floated, pre-election:
- A reshuffle for continuity, with the occupants of most Cabinet posts staying in place.
- A Whips Office operating at a greater distance from George Osborne, with Graham Brady as Chief Whip (we also named Chris Grayling and Mark Harper as possible contenders to the post).
- Nicky Morgan to take a big role, because she’s up to the challenge – and the Party’s Centre-Left should have its place in the sun.
- Michael Gove to take charge of re-thinking the constitution. He will also, given his views on making the Conservatives “crusaders for the dispossessed”, want to continue Grayling’s push on rehabilitation reform.
- Recognition for Grant Shapps’s work as an election-winning Chairman, and promotion for Sajid Javid, Elizabeth Truss, Priti Patel and Andrea Leadsom.
- Francis Maude to stay on in the Cabinet Office (arise, Lord Maude) until the end of the spending round, in order to squeeze further savings from Whitehall.
Now glance at what the Prime Minister has done to date in his reshuffle first wave:
- The top team are back in place: Osborne, Philip Hammond, Theresa May and Michael Fallon. Since Cameron now has a majority, he has more room for manoeuvre – but clearly grasps the need to keep his Cabinet members onside, given the slimness of his majority.
- Harper goes to Chief Whip, Grayling to Leader of the House. These are very good appointments. Neither are in the pocket of the Chancellor or anyone else. Harper makes up for his lack of top-level experience by being one of nature’s operators: diplomatic, outgoing and deft, as we have seen, at both handling a setback and recovering from it. Grayling is a senior figure on the Centre-Right of Party, its natural centre of gravity.
- Gove moves to Justice, where he will lead the bid to reform part of the Blair/Brown constitutional settlement – the Human Rights Act. ConservativeHome hopes that he will range wider.
- Nicky Morgan has been explicitly confirmed in her post as Education Secretary. This is both a vote of confidence in her and confirmation of her senior status.
We will see what the rest of the shuffle has to bring but, at the risk of taking a Panglossian view of events, Cameron has got it off to just about the best of all possible starts.