Conservative Intelligence

Conservative Intelligence

This site is currently down for maintenance and should be back soon.

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 – 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



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

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

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

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

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

From the Conservative Intelligence member's site

Miliband’s Threat To Outside Earnings May Drive Tory Mps Over The Edge

Conservative MPs are capable of a wide range of emotions, encompassing the normal human set and then a few extras thrown in. Pride, injured pride, confidence, optimism, crushing depression, panic, fury, resentment, contentment, ambition, resignation, triumph and a host of others are within their repertoire. Even at the best of times, a healthy parliamentary party […]

Cameron Woos Mrs Rochester

“There’s no stunts or backroom deals, just a strong local candidate you can trust.” So wrote David Cameron in a letter sent this week to every voter in Rochester and Strood, where the next UKIP-engineered by-election is to take place towards the end of November.  At the end of it, he made the point again […]

To Respond To Defeat In Clacton, The Tories Will Need A Tougher Immigration Policy

Everyone expected the UKIP candidate, Douglas Carswell, to win in Clacton, but few people thought he would win by the enormous margin of 12,404 votes. An exceptionally rude kick has been administered to David Cameron. It is not much consolation for the Conservatives that a scarcely less rude kick has been administered to Ed Miliband […]

The Tories Leave Birmingham With A New-Found Confidence

No-one knew quite what to expect when the Conservative family gathered in Birmingham on Sunday. Mark Reckless had just delivered the second UKIP defection blow in as many months, and Brooks Newmark’s indiscretions were causing embarrassment (though less existential questions for the party). If anything, observers might have expected a depressed conference mood. Instead, though, […]

21 People To Watch As Next Week’s Conservative Conference Looms

1. Those two MP defectors to UKIP – if, of course, they exist at all.  If so, they will presumably turn up on Saturday evening.  If they don’t, the media will treat this as a further sign that the Party isn’t grown-up, since it talked but didn’t deliver.   2. George Osborne. The Conservative election […]

Will Cameron Go Fast And Slow On Devolution All-Around?

The Prime Minister announced this morning that more devolution for Scotland and reform elsewhere – specifically, action on English votes for English laws – will take place “in tandem” and “at the same pace”.  Draft legislation will be “published by January”. His statement opens up two possible outcomes. The first is that he pushes for […]

Whatever The Result, The Scottish Referendum Has Killed Blair’s Devolution Settlement

The Scottish referendum result is up in the air – polls swing from No to Yes and back again, all within the margin of error. The rush from Westminster to Scotland, not only of the party leaders but of scores of Labour MPs, demonstrates how seriously the prospect of a Yes result is being taken. […]

Two Conservative Scenarios If Scotland Votes Yes

Scenario One: David Cameron does not resign as Prime Minister (or as Conservative leader).  Nor does any member of the Cabinet other than Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary.  The Coalition hangs together.  The Conservative Parliamentary Party rallies round its leader. UKIP’s attempt to provoke an English nationalist backlash comes to nothing.  Perhaps unexpectedly, […]

Cameron’s Ability To Neutralise Opponents Is Brilliantly Illustrated By His Handling Of The New Surveillance Law

David Cameron will always do what the Establishment considers to be prudent.  The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill, sprung upon the Cabinet on Thursday morning, is a case in point. Cameron has been told by the security services that these powers are needed. He has therefore set out to square Nick Clegg and Ed […]

Why Critical Headlines About Donor Dinners Raise A Smile In Downing Street

In politics, as with so many things, it’s tempting to judge a book by its cover. The personalities, the catchphrases, the emotional and cultural baggage carried by politicians and parties all compete for our attention. They’re important, of course, but they’re only one part of the political process. The showbiz elements often distract people from […]