Calm down Westminster, the reshuffle will change absolutely nothing

by Atul Hatwal

It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. For all the chatter over the reshuffle, it will achieve nothing. No great new sense of direction will be imbued in the government, no re-vitalised mission.

There are three fundamental reasons that nothing will change, regardless of all of the hyperventilated twittering in Westminster, certainly not at this point in the electoral cycle: Cameron and Osborne’s relationship, the limited room for manoeuvre in making cabinet changes and the government’s inability to manage the media.

First, Cameron and Osborne both know they are bound together to the end of time. It rules out the one change that could have a profound impact the government: moving the chancellor.

Cameron and Osborne might recently have demonstrated bewildering political and economic incompetence, however, these two politicians have had the importance of unity between Number 10 and 11 indelibly impressed on them by visceral personal experience.

Through the 1990s and 2000s they had ring-side seats to the aftermath of prime ministers and chancellors falling out.

In the early 1990s they watched Major vs. Lamont (with the chancellor advised, lest we forget, by a fresh faced David Cameron while George Osborne was a researcher at Conservative Central Office); and then a decade later, Blair vs. Brown. The former conflict destroyed the foundations of Major’s authority while the latter consumed Labour’s will to govern.

For Cameron and Osborne, the ruin of the last Conservative and Labour governments both lay in the recurring war between Number 10 and 11. It is, in a sense, the defining experience of their political lives.

Second, there’s little room at the inn. The need to maintain the balance in posts between Tories and Lib Dems, men and women and right and left means there is exceptionally limited room to upgrade, let alone seat extra guests for dinner.

There’s no moving the Lib Dems from either chief secretary to the treasury, BIS or energy and climate change. Given the constitutional reform element of the deputy prime minister’s remit, a sizeable chunk of the justice secretary’s portfolio is also Lib Dem territory.

The small number of women in the cabinet means that any cull that included Caroline Spelman, Cheryl Gillan or Sayeeda Warsi would require three female replacements. This would anger the not-so-orderly queue of men waiting to get into the cabinet; some of whom thought they actually had cabinet jobs until the coalition agreement was hammered out.

Then there’s the delicate balance of right and left. Cameron’s preferred lieutenants such as Nick Boles and Nick Herbert are regarded as lily-livered quasi-Lib Dems by the snarling right. The backbench right-wing caucus will demand a bone to be thrown, but Cameron must also be wary of surrounding himself with ministers temperamentally hostile to his flavour of Conservatism.

It’s all tricky; so tricky in fact, that the least harmful option is to leave as much the same at the top table as is possible.

In itself, this could be presented as some form of positive for the government, a steady as she goes message from a resolute leadership unconcerned with the day-to-day bickering of politics. Such a narrative might even help them regain some of the political initiative.

But for the third reason.

That narrative would require some basic grasp of how to manage the press. Unfortunately for the government: media incompetence, thy name is Craig Oliver.

The government’s media operation resembles a footballer who lacks any touch. A story comes in, and bounces off them out of control. Number 10 singularly lack the ability to bring stories under control and work for them.

One example: the Olympics, an unbelievably good news story. The country is feeling positive and patriotic and justifiably proud. There was a government media win to be claimed but it needed to be done subtly. Show, don’t tell.

Some shots of David Cameron watching the minor sports, a few short pieces to camera about how Britain’s athletes were making us all so proud, topped and tailed by some nice pictures of the PM at the opening and closing ceremonies.

Instead we had another attempt to re-launch the big society, that picture of David Cameron in a GB shirt on his own watching the boxing, political rows about competitive sport in school and the sale of playing fields and, then last night, George Osborne getting booed while presenting a medal at the Paralympics.

The reshuffle could go ahead seamlessly with David Beckham, Usain Bolt and Mo Farah calmly ushered into the cabinet, heralded by Tory and Lib Dem backbenchers linking arms while singing Kumbaya and Craig Oliver’s team would still screw it up.

No, nothing will change with this reshuffle. Tomorrow, the spats in government will persist; angry Tory backbenchers will continue briefing that the Lib Dem tail is wagging the Conservative dog and bungled news management from No. 10 will keep Westminster heads shaking in disbelief.

Atul Hatwal is editor at Uncut

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One Response to “Calm down Westminster, the reshuffle will change absolutely nothing”

  1. Ray_North says:

    I agree – a good reshuffle should do four things: (1) root out the incompetent and unhelpful ministers; (2) correct bad departmental policy; (3) promote talent from the backbenches; (4) show the PM to be a strong and energetic leader – has this this reshuffle achieved anything? No, it has simply given the left a greater stick with which to beat George Osborne the biggest winner of this reshuffle is Ed Balls!

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