A reshuffle with an eye in UKIP and 2015?
Cameron kept many of his big hitters in post – Hague, IDS, May, Osborne – all stayed in post. Hunt took Lansley’s place. Team Clegg all kept their Cabinet posts, the only high profile switch in the Liberal Democrat side was Sarah Teather for David Laws – the former sitting in a swing constituency and standing down as Jacqui Smith did to campaign to save her seat. Smith lost her seat, and Labour will be looking for a high profile scalp and a seat that was taken from them back in 2003.
For me, this was a very politicised reshuffle – more about internal politics than public administration. In a sense there is some historical precedence, whether looking at Thatcher between 1979-81 to Blair from 1997 to his later years. Has Cameron decided to move out those that represented the breath of his party and bring in those that would secure his right wing in the face of a possible UKIP threat? Remember that some commentators on the right mentioned that the UKIP vote may have cost Cameron the election.
A bad day for women?
It doesn’t look good Cabinet-wise. Greening now at DfID, Miller now at DCMS and Villiers at Northern Ireland all have a feel of being moved to the periphery of Cabinet, leaving Theresa May as the only woman at the heart of Cabinet. Others noted the White, male oxbridge feel to the new Cabinet too. Via Puffles I commented that Cameron needed to compensate for this with a series of sound appointments at minister of state level. This he failed to do. Which surprised me.
It surprised me because I felt that there were a number of Conservative women MPs that would have been highly regarded enough not just by their own ranks but by their Liberal Democrat colleagues to have taken on ministerial portfolios. Andrea Ledsome is one MP that I thought would have been a shoe-in for a Treasury post.
One of the things business and the markets don’t like with politics is uncertainty – which makes the decision to shift Greening from Transport to DfID all the more puzzling. At what point did Cameron and Osborne get feet cold enough to regret bringing in Greening to Transport in the first place? A number of transport commentators – Christian Wolmar included – mentioned that Greening was getting to grips with a long term transport strategy. The moving of both her and Teresa Villiers will inevitably be destabilising for the Department for Transport as the top two ministers spend the next six months simply getting to grips with their briefs.
Hunt and the NHS, Miller on equalities – opposition up in arms?
There’s been some ‘delighted outrage’ about the appointments of Hunt and Miller – outrage given their past published opinions and voting patters on subjects ranging from the NHS, homeopathy, privatisation and equal rights – the latter on issues such as abortion and equal marriage. Delight too in that this will allow opposition parties to use such quotations and records with liberal aplomb.
What is surprising is how the equalities portfolio has been parcelled out to the DCMS, which doesn’t seem to have any policy cross-over with the rest of the department. Justice, perhaps. DCLG at a push, but Culture, Media and Sport? Gold dust for opposition parties looking to recruit activists from social groups that tend to be active anyway. But it won’t be plain sailing for Labour – who will have to convince with both policies and appointments that they have learnt the mistakes of the “Blair Babes” years.
One possible positive move was that of Lynne Featherstone, the Lib Dem at the Home Office to DfID. She’s made significant moves on equalities issues at international level in her previous posting. Now being full-time, along with Greening at DfID and Warsi at the Foreign Office, expect women’s issues (as confirmed by Hague earlier this week in the Commons) to be a major theme for the UK’s G8 presidency.
One interesting appointment that hasn’t hit the headlines is that of Mark Prisk at DCLG – as Housing Minister. He’s a chartered surveyor and will be one of the first housing ministers of recent times to be an expert in the field that he’s been appointed to. This will bring both opportunities and challenges to those organisations seeking to put pressure on the department. i.e. you’ll be able to get into some technical detail but you won’t be able to pull the wool over his eyes in the way you might have done with a regularly-reshuffled minister. There will also be the switch from Andrew Stunell to Don Foster – which means if my letter to the former via Julian Huppert hasn’t been signed off, it probably won’t be.
What about Jules? Isn’t he ministerial material?
I think Julian Huppert is, but ministerial office will probably cost him his Cambridge seat. My guess is that he and the local Liberal Democrats probably know that too. He faces an extremely aggressive challenge from Daniel Zeichner of Labour at the next election. Being bound by the convention of collective responsibility of government along with not being able to speak out on the variety of issues he’s passionate about (and his held in high regard in – especially on all things science & electronic communications) would allow his opponents to run rings around him. For Cambridge to have a genuine choice at the 2015 election it just needs the local Conservatives to select someone on the Bill Cash wing of the party, and the Greens to select someone from the ideological environmentalist side of the party to make things very interesting.
What about Michael Fallon at the Department for Business?
My prediction is that he’s the next Chancellor of the Exchequer. Years on the Treasury Select Committee will probably serve him in good stead as Cameron looks to move Osborne into a position of drawing up the Conservative manifesto for the next general election. As with Philip Hammond, my impression is that Fallon is regarded as a fairly safe pair of hands, regularly appearing in the media and rarely becoming flustered in the way that some of his colleagues have found.
What about the much publicised junior appointments for the four women?
These were the appointments of Esther McVey at DWP, Helen Grant at Ministry of Justice, Liz Truss at Education and Anna Soubry at Health. These were and will be much trumpeted as a sign of progress towards getting more women into government. Fallon did a reasonable job on Newsnight saying that this was part of a longer term plan, though I can’t help but feel a different presenter would have given him a tougher going over on the shift of women higher up in the Coalition towards the periphery. Chloe Smith has been shifted from The Treasury to Cabinet Office after what has been a bit of a miserable spell by the sounds of things. Given her background in management consultancy she could be useful foil to messrs Letwin and Maude as they seek to reform the civil service, while at the same time gaining experience in a department that has a much lower mainstream news profile.
What about the minister for morning telly?
Mr Shapps? He’s getting a kicking from his Labour opponents about alleged internet company activities, but assuming these don’t stick he could be a popular choice with grass roots activists. Shapps is very personable face-to-face and also knows how to handle an audience – even ones that throw awkward questions at him. Critics of his have said he’s not strong on policy detail, but in his new role he’s unlikely to have to deal with that. One question that might be put to Conservative Central Office is who their strategic thinkers are.
What does this mean for the Liberal Democrats?
A number of people have commented that the party has surrendered posts in the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office to focus on domestic posts – on the grounds that they are more likely to have an impact here, and it is here where they are most likely to win or hold votes. It looks like the party will retreat from all things Europe for the next two years, with much of their international focus being channelled through Lynne Featherstone at DfID.
The appointment of Chris Grayling as Justice Secretary has upset a number of people – whether the purists who think that such a post should go to a lawyer, to those who don’t like his political stance. The big challenge Grayling will have to deal with is the European Court of Human Rights ruling on votes for prisoners.
What will Labour make of all of this?
It remains to be seen whether there is some serious policy blue water that opens up between Labour and the Conservatives, but I expect some clashes to become extremely personalised. The big one being Jeremy Hunt at the Department of Health. Labour activists will be looking to see if there is anything in the final Leveson report that could undermine Hunt. Disability and equal rights activists will be going for Maria Miller on the back of both her ministerial record on disability benefits and her voting record on equal marriage.
As for UKIP and the Greens?
It’ll be a tougher call for the former, as the reshuffle may persuade a few activists to return to the Conservative fold. What do you do when political opponents start moving in your direction? Again, a reshuffle designed to limit the potential damage from UKIP? Possibly.
As for the Greens, they’ll be concerned about new DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson – and were quick off the mark following the latter’s appointment. The challenge for new Green Party leader Natalie Bennett is to turn this concern into activists and votes. Just as Labour will look to use Jeremy Hunt’s past statements on the NHS against him, the Greens may look to do the same with Paterson – especially on the controversial issue of fracking.
Policy impact of the reshuffle?
Other than the Heathrow runway issue, I can’t see too many changes ahead policy-wise. The reason being that The Treasury holds the main levers of power and Osborne and Alexander are still there – as are Cameron and Clegg. Their policy wriggle-room is very limited, and much will depend on to what extent (if at all) Treasury ministers relax constraints on spending.
Although the collapse of wider constitutional reform has created breathing space for ‘pro growth legislation’ the current economic malaise of the Eurozone and the rest of the world economy means that there’s only so much that this legislation can achieve.
As far as party politics is concerned, it probably sends the right signals to many a Conservative grassroots activist. Perhaps less so for the Liberal Democrats, who may already be thinking about how the Coalition partners go their separate ways towards a post-Clegg era. Yet the problem the Liberal Democrats continue to face is the one on voting reform. So long as a switch to proportional representation remains a pillar of their party’s identity, they will be under far greater pressure to make coalition government work, as such governments historically are more likely than under the current first-past-the-post system. If the current Coalition implodes into a disorganised mess, it will make future voting reform even harder to sell than it already is given the failure of the AV referendum. With the desire and pressure to make coalition government work, it makes it that little bit easier for anti-PR coalition partners to extract political concessions. Finally, there is the experience of government: What impact will this have on the next national Liberal Democrats manifesto?