Variously labelled “underwhelming”, “slightly better”, a “lurch to the right”, and simply the “no change” reshuffle, David Cameron’s first major reshuffle was eagerly anticipated by those in Westminster, though it might not be the hot topic of conversation in pubs up and down the country this week.
This enthusiasm wasn’t dented by the evident constraints of coalition government, and clear signals that most key players would remain in place. This was borne out as Cameron stuck with his Foreign, Home, Defence, Business, and Energy Secretaries, as well as crucially keeping George Osborne and Danny Alexander in place at the Treasury – a clear sign that the Government is still committed to its economic ‘Plan A’.
This was accompanied by a renewed focus on growth; with the creation of a new Growth Implementation Committee headed by Osborne and attended by Vince Cable, David Laws and Ken Clarke, and the promotion of former banker Sajid Javid to Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and with pro-business Conservatives Michael Fallon and Matt Hancock joining the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
While the coalition is still strong – especially at senior levels – and remains committed to its core economic policy, there are clear signs that relationships are likely to become more tense, particularly within departments. For example, at BIS the new Conservative Ministers Hancock and Fallon are likely to challenge Lib Dem Secretary of State Vince Cable more directly on relaxing employment laws and other regulations to generate growth.
The reshuffle has also been seen by some as a move to the right. In some respects this is correct, as a number of key promotions favoured more right-wing Conservative MPs – for example the appointment of Owen Paterson at Environment (who will push for growth over green policies), and the decision to replace the centrist Ken Clarke with Chris Grayling at Justice.
His efforts in these areas are likely to please backbenchers, but in return it is clear Cameron expects his party be more loyal – and he has sought to ensure greater discipline by overhauling the Whip’s Office, moving the former International Development (DfID) Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell to Chief Whip.
There were also changes at Transport, where Justine Greening – a vocal opponent of a third runway at Heathrow – was moved to DfID and replaced with former Chief Whip Patrick McLoughlin, who immediately signalled the start of an independent review on airport capacity.
Other notable moves saw Jeremy Hunt move from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to Heatlh, a move that No.10 was unlikely to make if it thought the Leveson Inquiry might further damage his career. The decision to let Hunt continue his political resuscitation at Health also underlines just how highly regarded he is within Downing Street.
Hunt replaces Lansley, who moves to become Leader of the House. Grant Shapps’ anticipated appointment to Conservative Party Chairman has proved popular with MPs and grassroots, as the former Housing Minister is regarded as a highly competent media performer. Aside from attempting to move former leader Iain Duncan Smith from his position as Welfare Secretary to Justice Secretary, Cameron avoided any major political mistakes.
The general view is that Cameron moved more ministers, and promoted more from the right of his party, than was expected. Despite this, the Government’s key policies remain very much the same, aside for a greater emphasis on economic growth and policy delivery. In spite of the promotion of a number of right wing MPs, the government is unlikely to make many noticeable shifts in that direction. However, the new Conservative team is very self-confident, and it is not likely to be long before tensions with the Liberal Democrats increase.
He was formerly Head of Policy at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). With degrees in history and economics from the Universities of Oxford and London, Jake is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a trustee of the European Association of Philanthropy and Giving and advises several governments on public policy. He also advises clients on CSR and philanthropy activities.
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