Cameron’s reshuffle reshapes the battlefield to exploit Labour weaknesses

by Atul Hatwal

Forget the breathless minutiae of who’s up and who’s down or biographies of the newly promoted, most analyses of the Tory reshuffle have missed the most important point: this was a reshuffle defined by Labour. Labour’s lines of attack and Labour’s vulnerabilities.

Ed Miliband was the silent witness, standing in the corner, at the back of David Cameron’s mind as the prime minister worked out his new ministerial jigsaw.

In each of the three major changes David Cameron announced – the promotion of women, the demotion of Gove and the installation of Phillip Hammond at FCO –  the same motivation is evident:  to reshape the battlefield with Labour. To make the Tories a smaller target, minimise the potential for distracting internal conflict and focus the national debate on the two areas where David Cameron is confident he has the beating of Ed Miliband: leadership and the economy.

It is debateable whether Labour’s repeated attacks on Cameron for sexism have won over many wavering voters, but they certainly had media resonance and diverted the political conversation away from the Conservatives preferred topics.

Ta Dah! David Cameron now has a defensible position on women’s representation. Labour will continue with its attacks, as was evident at PMQs today, but the traction is gone. Broadcast journalists are notably less opinionated than their newspaper comrades, but these tweets by ITV’s Chris Ship are indicative of the mood among the lobby.

Michael Gove might have been much beloved of Tory ideologues, he might even have been right on some of his reforms, but he had become Britain’s most polarising politician.

Lobby journalists frequently tell of the impact of articles that mention Gove. The overnight swell in page views, that builds each evening, through the week, as teachers and education professionals log on to Facebook and shared their nightly Gove-hate links, is almost a thing of legend.

Teachers’ deep enmity to Michael Gove would not have single-handedly lost the Tories specific seats, but their social media activity was certainly shifting the way journalists, who are measured ever more on page views, wrote their stories.

No more. With Michael Gove as chief whip and the balm of Nicky Morgan to be applied to education, another weekly source of off-message stories has been neutralised.

And with Phillip Hammond’s move to the foreign office, the truculent right will be assuaged that one of their own is dealing with Europe.

It won’t last of course. Yes, Hammond might currently be a “sound” Eurosceptic, but so was Hague once (anyone remember seven days to save the pound?) and the institutional  gravity of the Foreign Office will drag Hammond into the daily detail  of European trade-offs that ultimately reshape the outlook of all of the FCO’s political tenants.

But for at least the next six to nine months, the run-up to the general election, the right will be pacified and the distraction of the Tories never-ending civil war over Europe will recede from the headlines.

The result of this reshuffle will be to clear a vast landscape of news pixels. Space that has to be filled. And over the coming months, the Tories will be looking to refocus journalists on Ed Miliband’s leadership credentials and the recovering economy.

On these key topics, the latest YouGov polling is stark. David Cameron leads Ed Miliband as the public’s preferred choice for PM by 19%, 38% to 19%, the largest margin in over two years.

And on the economy, David Cameron and George Osborne are more trusted to run the economy by 11%, 36% to 25%. This represents the lowest rating registered by the Labour side since Ed Balls became shadow chancellor.

There will now be little scope for Labour to seek refuge from its negatives in these areas through attack’s on Cameron’s sexism, or Michael Gove’s latest pronouncement or even to be rescued by blue on blue fire over Europe.

The time has come for Labour to directly face the Tories on leadership and the economy. It’s going to be a long, hot summer for Ed Miliband and his shadow cabinet colleagues.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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8 Responses to “Cameron’s reshuffle reshapes the battlefield to exploit Labour weaknesses”

  1. paul barker says:

    Labour are still at an average of 36% but some of the figures show how inflated that figure is. How many trust Labour on the Economy – 25%. How many want Ed as PM – 19%.
    When the question is not some impossible Election “Tomorow” but a real one in a few months then Labours ratings will collapse.

  2. BenM says:

    Atul should be aware that the leadership ratings by themselves are not the issue. It’s the difference between Cameron and Miliband that matters and Cameron is nowhere near enjoying the gap Major had over Kinnock in 1992.

    The economic ratings are more of an issue. But here it is difficult to see how Labour can better their rating without actually being in power. A recovering economy was always going to lead to the government getting credit – the Banking crash was that bad after all. Ed Balls has already pledged to match Tory spending limits, what more can he do?

    Labour’s woes on the economy date from the Blair \ Brown refusal to challenge the Thatcherite legacy, getting duped into trumpeting Financial Services industry the Tories had bequeathed instead of spotting the mounting risks growing in that sector.

    They are not an Ed Miliband created problem, although Ed is having to deal with the fallout.

    “The time has come for Labour to directly face the Tories on leadership and the economy. It’s going to be a long, hot summer for Ed Miliband and his shadow cabinet colleagues.”

    I agree with this. Despite good-on-the-face-of-it employment numbers there has been no polling dividend for the Tories just yet. Probably because of the dismal lack of pay growth. But you can’t see this polling hiaitus lasting much beyond COnference season if Labour keep on ceding ground on the economy. They are going to have to face the Tories on the battlefield at some point.

  3. Madasafish says:

    Ed balls has been a disaster on the economic front: every forecast he has made : rising unemployment , triple dip recession : has been rubbish.

    To regain some economic credibility, Ed should say so and dump him. As brutally as possible. It would also do wonders for Ed’s reputation…

    THAT would give Labour some credibility as Balls is rather like an albatross…

  4. Tafia says:

    My 10 quid bet on a small tory majority is looking more and more dead cert by the day.

    Labour say nothing that is of much interest and Miliband regulalry gets nonchalantly tossed aside at PMQs.

    Sadly, Labour look like a rabbit caught in headlights. They are trying to be all things to all men and are being nothing to no one. It’s core vote doesn’t want pledges that tory austerity will continue – quite the opposite. The unions do not want zero hour contracts except for agency workers. And the target vote wants Labour to forget what it is supposed to be and continue on it’s current neo-liberalist centre right rubbish.

    My only worry about my bet is the tories will win a majority of 26 or more in which case I’ll lose as I have a majority of 1-25. 10 quid at 25-1 two years ago.

  5. John reid says:

    Taking out the speaker and deputy and 5 Sinn Fien.if the Tories win 27 seats from labour up north, and 10 seats from the lib Dems ,but maybe lose a couple of seats back to labour in London and Labour win a dozen seats from the Libdems then it’ll be Labour 255 and Tory 344 ,giving them a majority in real terms of 46′ although only 32 in reality, then the question is can Ed stay on,Gaitskell saw a Los of 20 seats and stayed on in 1959, if the Tories can win more seats from Libdems, then Ed will definately have to go, but if after the 2016 Mayoral election, if labour lose and the referendum,looks like Ed hasn’t a clue, my view is he’ll go in Oct 2016′ like Calaghan, or IDS did,

    on a low turn out, I reckon it’ll be Libdem 13%’ Ukip 11% other 7%’ but how many will the main two parties get !either 38% Tory, 31% Labour or 39% Tory too 30% Labour,

  6. BenM says:


    “My 10 quid bet on a small tory majority is looking more and more dead cert by the day.”

    A dead cert loss.

    No way can the Tories add seats. There isn’t going to be the shift in polling to get them the 7 point lead they need to gain just a single seat.

  7. John reid says:

    BenM you over loo, the fact parties have a swung back to them in the weeks before the election, also there’s a lot of Ukip protest votes that’ll go back to the Tories, how many people who didn’t like Labour in 2010′ couldn’t bring themselves to vote Tory, so voted Libdem, will for the first time,see a am is a one nation Tory and vote for them for the first time,

  8. Tafia says:

    Miliband’s position gets weaker by the day.

    “Ed Miliband cannot draw comfort from the survey: just 21 per cent of voters expect the Labour leader to be Prime Minister after the next election, compared to 31 per cent who said the same in May 2013. The proportion of voters who believe Mr Miliband will not be walking into Downing Street is at its highest, 44 per cent, in May 2013, the figure was 37%.

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