I was going to write something quite dismissive about today’s cabinet reshuffle. I started working on it last night – it was a nothing change, I had decided. I thought a musical metaphor would be most appropriate. The backing band might be different but the song would remain the same, this would be a karaoke coalition, rehashing the unpopular melodies of the past two years with a slightly less adept and experienced drum and bass section.
What mattered was that the top jobs – PM, Chancellor, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary – were staying the same. So was the message. The economy was still faltering and the government was still headed by people who get booed in public.
Yes, this was a karaoke coalition, a no change reshuffle, a “wee-shuffle”, with ministers performing karaoke versions of previous government policies. I was happy with this so much so that I used it on Radio 5 last night, and then, happy that it made sense, I went to bed.
And then I woke up this morning and discovered that I had been wrong.
Not completely – the fundamentals of this reshuffle are the same as they were, the song remains the same – but the kind of people being promoted could – and should – bring a chill to many Labour members. Whilst Labour MPs troop onto TV to say roughly what I was saying last night – that there has been no change – they should also remember the following:
The Justice Secretary Chris Grayling thinks that barring gay people from B&Bs is ok.
The Equalities Minister Maria Miller has an interesting definition of equality that doesn’t seem to include gay rights.
And the Environment secretary Owen Patterson wants to end all energy subsidies and fast-track exploitation of shale gas.
Many LabourList readers will be shocked by these points of view. Perhaps be have become conditioned to expect something different from our ministers. Perhaps we have forgotten that these people are Tories – they do not have the same wants and expectations as those of us on the left.Climate change is a myth to many of them, gay rights something tolerated by not embraced, the NHS “a mistake”. The tendency that believes such things is now in the ascendancy in the Tory Party. A weak leader has caved in, partially, to his right wing with promotions fora few of the backbench favourites – but it is undoubtedly insufficient to stop the bloodletting. They have a taste for the red stuff now.
At the same time Cameron proved too weak to sack Clarke or Warsi for fear of turning them into backbench attackers, this riling the right flank of his party further, for starting – but not finishing – the cull of what would have once been called “the wets”.
And similar weakness stopped Cameron from moving IDS from DWP. Duncan-Smith just said no, and that was that. The quiet man didn’t even need to turn up the volume…
In the coming days and weeks the focus will be on Jeremy Hunt, who rather than being sacked (which would have been the obvious decision, given his abysmal (at best) handling of the BSkyB bid), found himself promoted. Why in all holy hell could that have ever been considered a good idea? Does he know where the bodies are buried, or does Cameron see a depth of talent that has hitherto been hidden by ineptitude?
Regardless, his ascent to the role of Health Secretary assures us that whatever criteria Cameron was using to make his appointments, it wasn’t performance related promotion. There are other factors at play here – puppeteers pulling at the strings of our prone Prime Minister – a man who no longer seems in full control of his own government, and his own appointments.
And if that’s not terrifying – for the PM himself, as well as the country – then I don’t know what is…