Cameron’s Reshuffle: A Wasted Opportunity

By Tom Hollywood

Today, David Cameron is due to announce the results of his first major reshuffle as Prime Minister. The big movers in ministerial posts appear to be Ken Clarke, Andrew Mitchell and Baroness Warsi. Although Cameron is avoiding any major changes, having told voters that he wants to give ministers time enough in their jobs to become ‘experts’ in their field, there is no doubt that the changes at the top of government today will have an effect on the coalition and their popularity with the public.

The main mover today will be Kenneth Clarke, who will be dismissed from his post as Minister for Justice and instead given a non-specific role in the coalition government. Clarke has been a wise, old head at the government’s top table. He is as far as possible a liberal Conservative and this is presumably what has caused him to be knifed by Cameron. Moving Clarke will prove a mistake for Cameron, and one I believe he will come to regret. Clarke has done some excellent work during tough economic times at the justice ministry. As colleagues of his have pointed out, Clarke has managed to reform the legal system to fit in with these tough austere times whilst implementing cuts that firstly, are largely not meant to pander to right-wing backbenchers, and secondly have stayed out of the news. Furthermore, Clarke has neutralised Prison Officers’ Association and as pointed out ‘you hardly hear a pip out of the barristers’.

The truth is that Cameron realises Clarke’s worth, otherwise he would not be retaining him as either a roving economic advisor or on the National Security Council (both of which are roles being muted for Ken at the moment). The removal of Clarke therefore is an obvious move by Cameron to rout his leadership of the liberal thinking that led him to become PM so as to placate angry Tory backbenchers and position himself closer to his right-wing. This undoubtedly populist move is a naïve one from Cameron and one he will regret.

In other news Baroness Warsi, the first Muslim member of the Cabinet is to lose her job as Tory party chair, presumably to make room for yet another full-blooded right-wing Tory. Cameron again will ensure he retains Warsi so as to ensure he maintains the presence of a face in the cabinet that can connect to minorities and women alike. It seems that Cameron is intent on repositioning the Tory right in a stronger position so as to placate his backbenchers yet ensuring that high-ranking ministers are not moved too far so as to ensure the public still sees the Cameroonians that they elected leading the coalition charge.

Andrew Mitchell has been moved to chief whip, a job he has always fancied, and as such a role has opened up at International Development. Mitchell is a close ally of the Chancellor George Osborne’s and as such will ensure that the party is kept in toe with Osborne’s plan A, although we will undoubtedly hear mutterings against the plan by those left out of the reshuffle or demoted who feel they deserve preferential treatment from Cameron. As for Mitchell’s former post, many top ministers are being tipped to move around including the likes of Jeremy Hunt and any of these could fill the role.

In other important changes Andrew Lansley is set to lose his job over the NHS debacle that has plagued the coalition from its very beginnings. It is likely however that, no matter who his successor will be, they will find changes to the NHS very hard to sell and that post is likely to be a poisoned chalice for the remainder of the government’s term. Whether Lansley himself will be retained is questionable. He certainly doesn’t deserve to and he is one of the most unpopular ministers in the government.

Within the Lib Dem’s it is unlikely that too much movement will occur. Despite calls from Tory right-wingers for Vince Cable to be chopped from Business Secretary this would infuriate Lib Dems and the public alike and as such will not happen. David Laws is expected to return and it will be interesting to see Labour’s reaction to this and likewise the public reaction to Labour’s own reaction. Any attacks on Laws, who many saw as forced out of government through little fault of his own may cause a negative reaction against the Labour Party.

We can conclude from the reshuffle that Cameron has avoided making any large scale changes. If Cameron wanted to fix the economy he would be better off removing Osborne, rather than strengthening him by moving a close ally into the position of Chief Whip. Cameron’s reshuffle is a quite blatant attempt to placate Tory right-wing unease, although how far this will work is doubtful. This is a very limited reshuffle and Cameron has made moves for all the wrong reasons. Although keeping the coalition together is undoubtedly a big job and inherently important for the government, surely Cameron must realise soon that the only way his party will remain in government at the next election is if the economy is recovering. This reshuffle has not even begun to address that issue.

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