Should Cameron reshuffle this Summer?

Should Cameron reshuffle this Summer?

David Herdson on a cabinet reshuffle.

If so, who goes, stays, moves and arrives?

One feature of the coalition government has been how stable ministerial appointments have been.  The great majority of those appointed in 2010 are not only still in office but still in the same office.  When ministers have left the government, the ensuing reshuffles have been very vertical affairs with little movement within the same rank.

One major reason for this is that it’s far harder to reshuffle a coalition government than a single party one.  Apart from all the usual considerations of recognising administrative and political ability, balancing factions within a party, cutting dead wood and rewarding service, that a prime minister will think of, Cameron also has to negotiate moves involving the Lib Dems with Clegg in terms of both personnel and office.

Reshuffles have a great capacity to go wrong – it only takes one minister to refuse an offer and the whole thing can rapidly unravel – so it’s hardly surprising that with the additional constraints Cameron faces, he’s not undertaken a full-scale one yet.  Assuming that he intends to do so at some point this parliament, the obvious options are this summer or next: making changes early in the recess gives ministers the maximum time to get to grips with their brief before facing parliament.

The five Lib Dems are almost certain to stay in the cabinet.  Clegg isn’t in a strong position to assent to the departure of any of them and all seem keen to stay.  Tories might like to see the back of Cable but Cameron needs Clegg onside and Clegg needs Cable onside, so he’ll remain and in all probability, do so at Business.

Turning to the Tories, much more in the firing line will be Jeremy Hunt, assuming he makes it to the summer.  Cameron may have given his backing this week but that doesn’t mean the PM won’t let him go on at a time of his own choosing.  Lansley and Maude are two others who’ve underperformed as advocates for their reforms, while Cheryl Gillan’s public spat over HS2 won’t have done her any favours.

The big question Cameron will have to answer is what he does about George Osborne.  He will very probably keep him at No 11 (he’d only be the third Chancellor reshuffled or sacked since 1967), though whether he should is another matter.  The last Budget was a mess with the top-rate tax cut undermining his own ‘all in it together’ message, as well as delivering poor PR on lesser changes – all seemingly revisited this week.  Above all, Osborne is not communicating well the rationale for the deficit reduction policy and is losing the battle against advocates of ‘growth’ through borrowing.  He may be better off with a wide-ranging role at somewhere like the Cabinet Office.

By contrast, Michael Gove has the intellect to do the job, the ability to put across a case, and the confidence to do so (something Osborne seems curiously lacking of late), and is 14/1 with Ladbrokes to be next Chancellor.  Gove may well be reluctant to leave Education while his reforms are still bedding in but could perhaps be persuaded providing his successor is known to be as enthusiastic and knowledgeable.  If not, Hague (10/1) or May (25/1) are alternatives, as would Hammond (4/1) have been had he not only recently taken up post at Defence – a consideration that will be less important if the big reshuffle is next summer.

Elsewhere, if Lansley is to go, Cameron could do worse than return Ken Clarke to Health.  With a battle to be had with doctors, the government needs someone who’s not afraid of a fight and who comes across reasonably on the TV and radio to make the government’s case, which by and large, Clarke is and does.

Either or both of those changes then opens up a whole set of further options but the likelihood is that the big reshuffle, when it comes, will more or less set up the Tory line-up for the 2015 election (the Lib Dems, with no cabinet ministers in the Great Offices or the big spending departments, will presumably sort out their own spokesmen nearer the time).  Getting it right therefore matters and I do wonder whether Cameron’s decision not to refer Hunt about the ministerial code is in part to avoid being bounced into or stymied from making a large-scale reshuffle because of someone else’s timescale.

David Herdson

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