by Renie Anjeh
The reshuffle is over. William Hague dramatically resigned as foreign secretary and has announced that he will retire from politics in 2015 after 26 years as an MP. Ken Clarke’s ministerial career – which began under Ted Heath in 1972 – has come to a close. Teachers and pupils (and probably Theresa May) rejoiced when Michael Gove was demoted to the humble role of chief whip. The reshuffle was not just the equivalent of football transfer day for political anoraks, it was the most important reshuffle in David Cameron’s premiership.
The reaction to the reshuffle has been varied. Dan Hodges (the prime minister’s favourite columnist) called it a ‘strange’ reshuffle whilst Charles Moore labelled it as ‘the worst reshuffle in 25 years’. The official line from the Labour party was that the reshuffle was the ‘massacre of the moderates’ and almost every single tweeting Labour MP repeated that message religiously as the reshuffle unfolded (probably with encouragement from the whips). However, the party’s claim was demonstrably untrue and actually highlighted a failure on our side to truly understand our political enemies.
The departure of one nation Tories such as Clarke, Young and Damian Green is down to the political longevity rather than their politics. Dominic Grieve may be a supporter the Human Rights Act but he is also an opponent of HS2 which may have also counted against him. Although, David Willetts and Alan Duncan are the godfathers of Tory modernisation (‘Tory Taliban’ was coined by Duncan), it is wrong to suggest that they are One Nation Tories.
They are Thatcherites who in spite of their Eurosceptism and economic liberalism, hold very socially liberal views. If the reshuffle was a cull of the moderates, as Labour yesterday, then since when did Owen Paterson and David Jones become moderates?
Paterson is the Tory right’s prince across the water. He is a leading member of the Cornerstone group whose views on Europe, climate change, gay marriage, fox hunting and tax chime with traditional Tories, much to the consternation of the modernisers. There is a lot of anger among the Tory right and some right-wingers such as Lord Lawson even publicly called for him to stay in post.
A reshuffle that was a lurch to the right would have seen Paterson promoted rather than defenestrated. David Jones is also a right-winger who said some rather unpleasant comments about gay couples adopting children. Also, how could a reshuffle that has promoted the likes of Anna Soubry, Jo Johnson, Robert Buckland, Nick Boles, Ed Vaizey, Sam Gyimah and Matt Hancock, be described as a ‘cull of the moderates’ or a rightward shift?
The left are making the same mistake that the right made when they claimed that Ed Miliband’s reshuffle was the ‘cull of the Blairites’. The reshuffle was not about the left and right of the Conservative party, it was not even about replacing the old with the new, It was all about George Osborne.
After this reshuffle, Osborne’s influence in government is ubiquitous. The names of people who have been promoted – Hammond, Fallon, Morgan, Truss, Hancock, Freeman, Perry, Patel, Rudd, Gauke, Coffey – read like a roll call of the Chancellor’s allies and supporters.
Responsibility for party management is now in the hands of Michael Gove and Greg Hands, both supporters of the chancellor. The tentacles of Number 11 Downing Street have fastened its grip on the Tory party placing Osborne in pole position to succeed Cameron and it seems as if the Prime Minister has lent him his support.
That is in stark contrast to the shadow cabinet reshuffle that took place last year that was actually Ed Miliband curtailing the power of Ed Balls by appointing Douglas Alexander as Election Co-ordinator and bringing back Spencer Livermore.
One should also bear in mind that Cameron has axed or moved some ministers who are popular with his party whereas Miliband felt that he could not axe or move certain underperforming shadow cabinet ministers because they have an ‘untouchable’ status in the party. As much as it pains me to say it, perhaps Miliband could learn from Cameron by being more ruthless with his team.
Labour’s line of attack on the reshuffle could have been better. The party should have attacked the prime minister’s nominee to be Britain’s next commissioner in Brussels. Cameron should have put forward someone with the experience and expertise necessary to get a big portfolio like internal market commissioner not an obscure peer who publicly said that he did not want the job.
Labour could have highlighted Cameron’s inconsistency because only a few weeks ago, he said that Michael Gove would remain in his place but now he has been demoted. They could have also made great fuss out of the fact that he broke his promise to make a third of the government (as opposed to the cabinet) female. They should have been more vocal about IDS remaining in his job. However, the real lesson for the Labour party, especially the leadership, is that whoever is leader after the next election will probably face George Osborne at the despatch box.
Renie Anjeh is a Labour party activist