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On your marks, get set, go.
David Cameron has unofficially launched his re-election campaign by carrying out a wide-reaching Cabinet and Ministerial reshuffle. Cameron is sending a message to the British public by getting rid of the ‘male, pale and stale’ Cabinet secretaries and ministers, as some in the media put it. Some have resigned – such as Tory grandee Ken Clarke who has served in Tory cabinets since Margaret Thatcher – whilst others have been given the boot.
The depth of this reshuffle was first highlighted when it was revealed that Foreign Secretary William Hague had tendered his resignation. Hague will, however, stay on as Leader of the House of Commons and First Minister of state before he retires at the general election in May next year. His replacement, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, is seen as more Eurosceptic than Hague – a promotion arguably made to appease the far right of the Conservative Party who may sympathise with the views of UKIP on Europe.
Cameron is increasing the number of women at the top table with a surprise replacement of Education Secretary Michael Gove by treasury minister Nicky Morgan. In a move that has no doubt brought joy to those in the education sector, who have felt the barrage of policies from the Department for Education, will have the intent of trying to win the teachers’ unions round to the government in time for the election.
Universities and science minister David Willetts is sacked from the Government, being replaced by Greg Clark who increases his portfolio adding to his role as Minister for Constitution and Cities. Having only just got the promotion Morgan has already come under criticism for her vote against equal marriage. With a rising profile against homophobic bullying in schools, it is deemed a blow to LGBT+ rights that education is now headed by someone who doesn’t feel gay people should have the right to marry and thus a legal family.
What of Gove? Well he is not leaving the front benches. He’s been shuffled to the office of Chief Whip, finally allowing Sir George Young to retire as he has tried to do before the ‘plebgate’ scandal brought him back to the Whip’s office to replace Andrew Mitchell. This move could be seen as a demotion for Gove (and does come with a smaller salary). A point Ed Milliband enjoyed quizzing the Prime Minister on in the last Prime Ministers Questions before the summer break.
It could be argued that Cameron is aligning with Home Secretary Theresa May after the bust up between the Department for Education and the Home Office over extremism in schools. Or maybe Gove has had one too many fights with the coalition partners as well as the unions.
The demotion claims are denied by both the Prime Minister and Gove, with Cameron saying he wants one of his strong political minds at his side for policy decisions running up to the election, and with Gove saying he is looking forward to the new challenges.
Shortly after this announcement it didn’t take long for Gove to be compared to the House of Cards character Francis Underwood (Francis Urquhart in the British version) as the scheming Chief Whip who aims for the top. Don’t rejoice too much as we have been forewarned that Gove will be the face of the Government on TV.
Education minister Liz Truss replaces Owen Paterson as Environment Secretary after the poor handling of the floods, with employment minister Esther McVey staying in her job but being invited to a seat in the Cabinet. This leaves Ian Duncan-Smith in his post as Work and Pensions Secretary, a post he was expected to leave according to a leaked conversation. McVey’s invite to the Cabinet could be a signal for promotion to secretary of state in the next reshuffle if Duncan-Smith was planning to leave but was persuaded not to this time round.
Much fuss was made over Stephen Crabb, the new Welsh Secretary. The first Tory cabinet minister with a beard since William Hillier-Onslow in 1905. He replaces David Jones who notably said that same sex couples ‘clearly’ could not provide “a warm and safe environment for the upbringing of children.”
Other notable appointments include Mayor of London, Boris Johnson’s younger brother Jo, who moves to Minister of State for the Cabinet Office and who continues to head the Number 10 Policy Unit.
Openly gay International Development Minister Alan Duncan resigns the position he has held since 2010 and leaves the Government. He had previously stated on an episode of Have I Got News for You many years ago now that he did want the position of Home Secretary.
Planning Minister Nick Boles is moved to Minister for Skills and Enterprise, also taking on the brief of implementing the equal marriage legislation.
It wouldn’t be a cabinet reshuffle, of course, without the return of someone who has previously had to resign and spend time on the naughty step. This reshuffle is no exception. Mark Harper, the former Immigration Minister who resigned earlier this year after it emerged he had employed an illegal immigrant as a cleaner, is promoted to Minister for Disabled People in the Department for Work and Pensions.
So what does this all mean? Well in reality, with less than a year to go until the general election, we are not likely to see any grand policy ideas. It has been argued that this reshuffle was all about aesthetics, with those who present well in public and on TV getting the promotions.
Is this going to put pressure on the opposition? Not really, if anything the changes may provide fresh ammunition for them. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are not likely to follow suit just yet if they are planning a pre-election reshuffle. With the Scottish vote for independence in September, a ‘yes’ vote would force a reshuffle in both these parties as they have ministers/shadow ministers from Scottish constituencies, unlike the conservatives. It would be poor judgment to have a pre-election reshuffle now and should Scotland vote for independence then have to carry out another.
Whether Cameron succeeds in his image shake-up and fresh presentation of ministers to the country will be judged over the coming months and ultimately in the general election. Arguably we have seen this political reshuffle to present a more wholesome facade for a Conservative Party that wants to win a majority next year.