It’s that time again in Westminster. Prime Minister David Cameron has instigated his most significant reshuffle yet in a bid to strengthen the Cabinet ahead of the 2015 general election. Dubbed by the media as a cull of the ‘male, pale and stale’, the overall theme of the reshuffle has been the removal of middle-aged ‘Euro-moderates’, epitomised by the long-serving Ken Clarke, and their replacement with a group of up-and-coming Eurosceptics. It is hoped by Mr Cameron that the promotion of 9 women to ministerial positions will distance the Cabinet from its reputation as an out of touch, stuffy and male-dominated club. If the Conservatives are to win a considerable majority next year, they will need a greater media-friendly presence that appeals to a broader section of the electorate.
Undoubtedly the biggest surprise of the reshuffle has been the resignation of Foreign Secretary William Hague, who announced that after 26 years as MP for Redmond, he will not be standing in the general election and will see out his final year as Leader of the Commons. In contrast to other post changes, Mr Hague’s move is considered voluntary and will ensure his availability during the planning of the election campaign. David Cameron will particularly appreciate the former party leader’s experience and proficiency as a public speaker, not least because his longevity at the forefront of politics has seen him develop an important connection with grass-roots conservatism.
Replacing Mr Hague is Phillip Hammond, who leaves the Ministry of Defence (MoD) after overseeing considerable reforms to defence spending, the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, and an effective if ruthless redundancy programme. An outspoken Eurosceptic with a penchant for attention to detail, it will be hoped that Mr Hammond can ready the Foreign Office for the repatriation of powers from Brussels and successfully renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU.
The MoD is handed to Michael Fallon, promoted to the Cabinet for his ability to troubleshoot crises. He will now be expected to push through the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier programme and ensure that the demanding Army 2020 reforms stay firmly on track. His role will come under particular scrutiny ahead of September’s NATO Summit, which will likely demand that member states commit more resource to integrated security solutions.
Michael Gove, the controversial Education Secretary, has been appointed Chief Whip in the House of Commons to oversee discipline in what will be a crucial 12 months for towing the party line. Known for his radical approach to education reform, notably free schools and the extension of the academy programme, Mr Gove is thought to have a particularly close relationship with the Prime Minister and will take up a potentially risky public profile as government spokesman. His removal will likely ease tensions between the government and teacher unions, aiding the transition of his successor, Nicky Morgan, who will also continue in her role as Minister for Women.
Ms Morgan is one of nine women to be promoted in the reshuffle:
- Liz Truss, who replaces Owen Paterson, a favourite of the Conservative right, will become Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
- Esther McVey, will remain as Employment Minister but has now been invited to attend Cabinet.
- Claire Perry has been appointed as a Junior Transport Minister.
- Anne Soubry, a former barrister, has become Minister of State in the Ministry of Defence.
- Amber Rudd, a former aide to George Osborne, has been promoted to Junior Minister at the Department for Energy and Climate Change
- Priti Patel will join George Osborne as Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury
- Penny Mordaunt, a former unpaid ministerial aide to the Defence Secretary, has been appointed junior minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government.
- Baroness Stowell will become Leader of the House of Lords, replacing Lord Hill.
Lord Hill was political secretary to John Major during the negotiations on the Maastricht Treaty, and has been nominated as European Commissioner with a view to building alliances and cutting deals in Brussels. However, the appointment has drawn criticism because he is not considered a Conservative ‘heavy hitter’ and maintains a low political profile.
Brooks Newmark has replaced Nick Hurd as Minister for Civil Society and will oversee volunteering, charities and social enterprise. Notably, he has been involved with various charities including PARC, a respite centre based in his constituency, Braintree, for children with severe disabilities, as well as Farleigh Hospice and A Partner in Education, which he founded in 2010.
Other ministerial changes include:
- the promotion of Jeremy Wright, a former minister in the Ministry of Justice, to Attorney General.
- the promotion of Stephen Crabb, a Junior Minister in the Welsh Office since 2012, to Secretary of State for Wales, replacing his former boss David Jones.
- the assignment of additional responsibilities (Minister for Science and Universities) to Greg Clark, currently Minister of State for Cabinet Office.
- the move of Matthew Hancock, a close ally of George Osborne, to take on Michael Fallon’s former portfolios as Business Minister, Energy Minister, and Minister of State for Portsmouth.
- the move of Nick Boles to Minister of State at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education.
- the move of Mike Penning to a joint ministerial role in both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.
- the return of Mark Harper as Minister of State in the Department for Work and Pensions after he resigned as Immigration Minister earlier in the year for employing an illegal immigrant.
- the move of John Hayes to Minister of State in the Department for Transport, retaining his responsibilities at the Cabinet Office.
- the appointment of Robert Buckland as Solicitor General, the second most senior legal position in government. He is particularly pro-Europe.
- the move of Andrew Murrison, a former Royal Navy medical officer, to Junior Minister at the Northern Ireland Office.
- the appointment of George Freeman to a Junior Ministerial position that straddles the Department of Health and the Department for Business.
- the appointment of Julian Brazier, an MP since 1987 and former soldier, as Defence Minister.
- the return of Nick Gibb as Education Minister following his sacking in 2012 as Schools Minister.
- the move of Desmond Swayne, a former soldier, to a position as Junior Minister at the Department for International Development.
- the appointment of Sam Gyimah, David Cameron’s former ministerial aide, to a Junior Minister role at the Department for Education.
- the move of Jo Johnson, younger brother of London Mayor Boris Johnson, to a Cabinet position whilst maintaining responsibilities as head of the No 10 Policy Unit.
With the intense departmental briefings complete, new-to-post ministers will be facing up to the media expectations that now befall them. Labour has criticised the government for not fulfilling its promise of increasing the number of women in ministerial jobs to 30%, but many will feel Mr Cameron has made solid progress nonetheless. The overarching shift toward a more Eurosceptic Cabinet suggests that Britain’s membership in the EU will be a divisive issue during the coming election, but it is a strategy designed to tempt want-away UKIP voters back to the fold. Fundamentally, the Conservative Party will be out to attack Ed Miliband’s leadership credibility with a comprehensive media assault. In this regard, the reshuffle is just the first shot in what promises to be a tense election year, and the Prime Minister will be hopeful that his ministerial selections can carry another Conservative victory.
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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