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Expert Comment: Cameron's Reshuffle

0119 Prof Bill Jones Wednesday 16 July 2014

Bill Jones (Adjunct Professor, History and Politics) looks at the implications of this week's cabinet reshuffle.

Well, it was supposed to be about fulfilling Cameron's pledge to make one third of his ministerial team female. Cameron allegedly hates reshuffles and puts them off for as long as possible. But with the election only 10 months away and still lacking that 7-8 point lead he needs for an overall majority, this rearrangement of ministers seems to be made with populist ends and the election in view. And not all of it has gone to plan either.

Lynton Crosby, Cameron's tough Aussi campaign director, has insisted the 'barnacles' are removed from the government before the race to the election tape properly gets under way. Chief barnacle, it seems, was Michael Gove who has zealously reformed education but at the cost of upsetting public sector workers- whose lack of Tory sympathies in 2010, it is thought, helped deny Cameron his victory. Polls show Gove, decorously courteous in his personal dealings, is seen as 'toxic' by too large a slice of the electorate. Most Education Secretaries are invisible to the generality of voters but Gove was a rare exception and for the wrong reasons. He had to go.

His consolation prize of Chief Whip is seen by some as a sop to George Osborne, who opposed the move but recognises Gove as a key supporter of his own ambitions to replace Cameron should he fail to win next May. Having a close ally with access to all those personal files on MPs will greatly assist George's campaign should his banner be unfurled sometime in 2015. The embarrassing thing is that Chief Whip, though a vital post, carries less clout than a full secretary of stateship. Cameron and Gove both insist this is not a 'demotion' but as the Independent points out today, if its not a demotion, why does it entail a £36,000 pay cut?

Apart from Gove the other big surprise was the replacement of William Hague by Philip Hammond. Hague, who has acquired so much gravitas since his ill fated stint as leader 1997-2001, has been one of Cameron's successes so why move him to the 'departure lounge' post of Leader of the House? Probably as a signal to potential UKIP voters: Hammond is on record as being in favour of Britain leaving the EU. Or maybe as a signal to EU negotiators that, should he win he's going to play hardball on repatriating powers from Brussels. Hague, in any case probably feels he has fulfilled much of what he wanted to achieve from the time he won a standing ovation at the 1977 Tory party conference. His brilliant biography of the Younger Pitt suggests he will not be short of things to do when he retires before the election and his career as a much acclaimed after dinner speaker will ensure he won't starve. Former Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley I guess will not be much missed; after his much criticised NHS reforms his role seemed to be reduced to that of sagaciously nodding in agreement sitting alongside Cameron at PMQs.

As for the women question, two more enter the Cabinet, Vicky Morgan and Liz Truss at Education and Environment respectively. The Cabinet now has 5 women out of 22; way short of a third, but close to a third of Tory members. Nick Clegg might add to the number when he undertakes his reshuffle probably in the autumn. When junior ministers are also taken into account, only 24% are female.

Will the reshuffle have any effect? I doubt it. Even if aware of them in the first place, voters will soon forget those who have left the stage and there is not enough time left for newcomers to make much of an impact before next May. Adding to female numbers might just help improve support in an area where Conservatives have trailed Labour for some time and the harder euro-sceptic edge might win back a few waverers tempted by UKIP. But this reshuffle was basically a political exercise, an attempt to freshen up the image in terms of a few new faces and more women. But Cameron has to accept that those he has sacked will not be best pleased and he might have fuelled more backbench dissent in the run in to the election. Moreover, the failure to woo Dr Liam Fox, who rejected the offer of a post under his former junior minister, Hammond, might have excluded someone who might lead Tory EU withdrawers into more open and rancorous revolt.

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