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The Good Reshuffle And The Bad Reshuffle

Last Updated: Friday, September 7th, 2012

The dust is settling on a much bigger reshuffle than I had expected. 29 ministers and whips left the Government in total. I had expected only half that number. Whole departments were turned inside out – at Health, Justice, DEFRA and Transport for example there is hardly any ministerial continuity. That can only be to the advantage of the civil servants.

I think the reshuffle was actually a reshuffle of two days and two halves – one good and one bad.

The good day was the first day and it was the one I described as “clever” in a column for Wednesday’s Daily Mail . It was good on a number of levels:

George Osborne was left in place. This may not be the most popular view but those wanting a shift away from austerity are, in my humble opinion, wrong and those wanting more supply-side measures under-appreciate the ally they have in the Chancellor. Whether it’s airport capacity, cheaper energy, planning reform, Beecroft-style deregulation or lower business tax then George Osborne is on the pro-growth side of every internal Coalition argument. He may lack a narrative for his ambitions and he may have joined the argument late but he has belatedly joined it and that can only be good. If Osborne with his closeness to Cameron, at the heart of the Quad, cannot overcome internal Coalition resistance, another less-connected Chancellor certainly won’t. A new Chancellor will also lack the fiscal credibility won by Osborne. A change of Chancellor will be interpreted by markets as a shift from Plan A and that will be very risky for our international reputation. Economic policy is now pretty fixed unless we get a day of Eurozone reckoning. If that comes and the European economy is in crisis we might get bolder economic measures. Until then we are stuck with Osborne and a plan more known for its incrementalism than its radicalism.

Focus on economic implementation. Bigger incrementalism was the objective of the junior appointments, however, and I don’t mean that sniffily. Policy is 10% inspiration, 10% announcement and 80% implementation. George Osborne (and he did direct the economic-related aspects of the reshuffle) has put supply-side allies in the key jobs at BIS (Michael Fallon and Matt Hancock), planning (Nick Boles), childcare (Liz Truss), general delivery (LOCOG’s Paul Deighton), employment (Mark Hoban) and in his own department (Greg Clark and Sajid Javid). These water-carriers have the job of overcoming vested interests and Whitehall’s cannot-ist attitudes. Good luck to them. They’ll need it but they are the best the Government has got.

Heathrow. The biggest example of Osborne’s role in the reshuffle (described as Octopus-like by my colleague Paul Goodman – http://conho.me/Tqv4qU) was in transport policy. Justine Greening was very much in Osborne’s tentacles when she was appointed ten months ago but relations between the two have deteriorated rapidly since. Osborne has been converted by the business community on Heathrow. Justine Greening was/is a supporter of the Thames Estuary Airport idea and wanted to stick with the Tory manifesto and Coalition Agreement commitment. Those two positions were one of the explanations for Boris Johnson’s very strong reaction to her move. By 68% to 14% Tory members in a ConHome poll agreed that “Justine Greening lost her job as Transport Secretary because the leadership is getting ready to U-turn on its policy towards a third runway at Heathrow.” I think they’re right to make that conclusion but it’s crazy politics. The LibDems aren’t going to U-turn on LHR3 and Tory seats under the Heathrow flight path may have just become a lot more marginal.

Political appointments. Finally with regard to the first day of the reshuffle – the good day – there was some sensible politics. Ken Clarke was upsetting the Sun, Mail and Express on a daily basis and via them the 80% of voters who want more repeat and serious offenders to go to jail. Chris Grayling is not a lock ‘em up politician of caricature – he has thoughtful policies on prisoner rehabilitation for example – but he will take the Justice portfolio closer to the mainstream. Similarly there is now a conciliator and a communicator at Health. Andrew Lansley may have been a master of his brief but he couldn’t explain his policies to NHS insiders or patients. Jeremy Hunt will, nonetheless, have a horrible time given the huge Nicholson-sized efficiency savings that need to be made. He may, in fact, look back at his times at Culture as happy days! DoH will provide the test of his life but alongside him he has the ex-TV-presenter Anna Soubry and DOCTOR Dan Poulter. The third good political appointment is Grant Shapps. Another good TV performer and proven ground war campaigner (the first Chairman in a generation to have actually won a seat from Labour) he should improve the party’s political edge.

But if the first day was the good day the second day worried me. Up until now one of Cameron’s great strengths was that he wanted ministers left in place to master their briefs. This reshuffle seemed to abandon that belief. Not only were whole departments overturned but some very, very good ministers that were hugely respected and experienced were moved on. Some, I think, unnecessarily. The most worrying examples were Charles Hendry (who the energy sector respected), Tim Loughton and Nick Gibb (at education), Stephen O’Brien (at international development), Greg Clark (cities reform) and John Hayes (apprenticeships and vocational education).

Cameron has now tried the idea of one big reshuffle, once in a parliament rather than smaller annual reshuffles and I lean to the view that the second approach is probably superior. As well as the discontinuity/upheaval problem it also fails the party management test. With 29 casualties you risk creating a critical mass of disappointment. Annual reshuffles also help a PM and Chief Whip to keep hope alive on the backbenches. There probably will be one more reshuffle before 2014/15 but 95% of backbenchers now know – in their hearts – that they’re not the favoured ones.

By Tim Montgomerie

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

LAWS ARRIVES AT EDUCATION: “When in Government, Mrs Thatcher was fond of quoting Matthew 6:24: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.”  There are now two master-minds in the Education Department where there was only one before.” More via http://conho.me/RsQk9k

HAS THE CABINET SHIFTED RIGHTWARDS? “It’s wrong to over-state the ideological shift in the Cabinet. The Left do not need to be so afraid and the Tory newspapers shouldn’t get too excited. The key jobs are still in the same hands and the Coalition is still in place. Nick Clegg’s people are this morning briefing the BBC’s Norman Smith not to expect any big changes in direction, insisting “we’re not going to allow a phalanx of new right wing policies”.” More via http://conho.me/RsQk9k

ANDREW MITCHELL’S TASK: “The new Chief Whip has a track record of adapting to the times, and will surely strive to do so in his new role – unless, that is, he has been instructed otherwise by Number Ten.  This is where those backbenchers may have a point.  Cameron aims to tame back benchers in reshuffle, the Telegraph says this morning. The Prime Minister has appointed a disciplinarian to tame rebellious Tory MPs, reports The Times (£).  Mr Cameron is right to want to restore the firepower of the Whips Office.  But he will have made a catastrophic misjudgment – one which will blight his government – if he has ordered Mr Mitchell not to deploy his charm but to wield the cane.” More via http://conho.me/RiQOEu

DAVID DAVIS’ CALL FOR ECONOMIC SHOCK THERAPY: “The former Shadow Home Secretary – and a businessman before entering parliament – will argue that the biggest ingredient missing from the Government’s economic programme is “high drama”. Noting Margaret Thatcher’s shock therapy to the UK economy and Germany’s welfare and labour market reforms of the last decade, it is not enough, he will argue, to see economic reform as an entirely technical discipline. Economic reform and a growth programme must also have a psychological effect. The scale of the economic reforms must galvanise consumers and investors into believing that something tangible and dramatic is happening.” More via http://conho.me/NL5dDc

FUTURE TRADE POLICY: “A common error is to imagine that a partial free trade agreement, such as a customs union, must at least be progress towards universal free trade.  But that is not necessarily (or even typically) so.  In a customs union there is free trade between the members of the union but a common external tariff towards those outside.  That diverts trade – in other words, relative to unilateral free trade, you trade less with those outside the customs union and more with those inside.  Such trade diversion can be inefficient, and that inefficiency can exceed any efficiencies created by increased trade with customs union members.” More via http://conho.me/NYsphs

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