A review of the Reshuffle

The deck chairs on the good ship HMS Cabinet have been well and truly reorganised during David Cameron’s first major reshuffle – but so far, it has not hit stormy water. There has been little blood spilt in this modest, cautious reshuffle so far. Most of the big boys have been kept in their jobs, and some exciting, hotly tipped talent has been promoted into the lower decks of the cabinet. The majority of the Conservative Party will be pleased with this lurch to the right (starboard) – but it is clear that two new appointments in particular have the potential to well and truly rock the boat. Or should that be the airplane?

A month or so ago, I wrote about my predictions for the Autumn reshuffle. Looking back, it seems the majority of my broad predictions were correct. I tipped Chris Grayling, Theresa Villiers, Grant Shapps and Maria Miller for promotion, and I am delighted that all four have achieved this. Equally, I noted that Cheryl Gillian, Caroline Spelman, Andrew Lansley, Ken Clarke and Baroness Warsi were all in danger of demotion. Mostly, I am delighted that I was right once again.

However, two of the biggest changes are without doubt Jeremy Hunt stepping up to control the health portfolio, and Justine Greening being replaced by Patrick McLoughlin.

How Jeremy Hunt still has a ministerial job quite frankly beggars belief. Not only did he break the ministerial code in the whole Sky/Murdoch affair, but he also drastically lost popularity, from both the public and the party itself. Somehow, he managed to cling onto his Culture job for a few months. He has quietly but safely presided over the successful Olympic & Paralympic Games, but let’s make no mistake: the Secretary of State for Health is an absolute minefield of a job.

Not only has Hunt somehow climbed the greasy pole towards a promotion, but he takes on the one cabinet job that perhaps requires the most popular, experienced of politicians to take its helm. Jeremy Hunt has the political clout of a mouse and is as popular as a wart. How he will force through the massively unpopular and much berated reforms to the NHS remains to be seen, but I shall be amazed if he manages to survive in this role until 2015. Hunt’s promotion to this role in particular is potentially one of the most calamitous and bizarre decisions that Cameron has made for some time.

Yet again, the transport job – quite literally – remains on the move (pun well and truly intended), as it changes hands once more. Patrick McLoughlin takes charge, with a brief to continue the fight for HS2, and no doubt engineer a Government U-turn on Heathrow. IOO wrote about this issue just yesterday, but now that Justine Greening has been conveniently shifted out of the DfT (Moving to the rather lowly International Development job), the situation has changed dramatically and a 3rd runway in West London now seems very likely. Boris Johnson has already described Greening’s job change as ‘mad’, and the Tories face possibly extinction for their party in London if such a U-turn does indeed come to the fore in the coming weeks.

I am vastly disappointed that Greening, who has shown such staunch morals in her defence of her constituency (Putney) and indeed the rest of London, has been moved away from the department. It makes little sense to build a quick-fix 3rd runway at Heathrow, destroying a local village and making misery for thousands of local residents – especially when, in 30-40 years time, we will probably need a 4th runway. I’m afraid the solution lies away from Heathrow, but Cameron and his new transport yes man are likely to look at the cheap, short-term and destructive option of a 3rd runway at Heathrow. A disappointing move to say the least.

Those two particular changes – Hunt & McLoughlin – are poor. I can’t see how they will have a positive impact on their respective departments and I find both moves a little disheartening for the aims that this government initially set out to achieve.

There are, however, some very strong changes to the cabinet. Ken Clarke was a useless Justice Minister. He was so out of touch with the portfolio, that he embarrassed himself on numerous occasions during the past two years, and his switch to a less prolific without portfolio – advising on the economy, is much better suited to Clarke. His experience is invaluable, and will continue to be, but his liberal views are, to most Conservatives, far too out of line with the majority of the party.

His replacement Chris Grayling, is a choice that will greatly please the party. A proper, hard core right-winger, you can expect to see Grayling squaring up to the EU and it’s subordinate European Court on Human Rights (ECHR). You can expect the Abu Qatada nonsense to be cleared up, and you can expect a more hard line approach to prison and crime. While this will get the Tories all hyped up, unfortunately Cameron must balance the needs of his coalition partners.

The introduction of Grayling, Villiers, and Miller definitely signal a ‘lurch to the right’ for Cameron – pleasing his grass roots. Grant Shapps replacing the increasingly unpopular Warsi as party Chairman will also impress the ordinary members of his party.

This reshuffle has been a mixed bag. The promotion of excellent new talent is very welcome. The partial sidelining of Warsi, Clarke and Lansley was predictable. But the changes at the Departments of Health and Transport are strange, controversial and shaky. Not to mention the impact that all of these changes will have on coalition relations between the two parties.

The reshuffle may now be over, but Cameron potentially has stormy waters ahead……