As I write, the full reshuffle list has been more or less finalised, with only Michael Fallon spotted around No. 10 and still without an official position.
The Tories sole aim on a political level is to achieve a government majority at the next General Election in 2015, and to do so they will need people to vote for them who didn’t vote for them in 2010.
With that in mind, does today’s reshuffle make a 2015 election victory more or less likely? Or will it make no difference?
Let’s go through the reshuffled ministers, taken from the Guardian:
Full list of appointments so far
• Jeremy Hunt, the former culture secretary, has become health secretary.
Hunt was considered by many – myself included – to be a dead man walking about the NewsCorp scandal that his advisor his job while Hunt hung on as a firewall for Cameron.
Nonetheless it is clear that Cameron and Osborne rate Hunt highly and, bizarrely in the eyes of many, he has been given a huge promotion to the Health Department.
Superficially this gives Cameron the chance to create a clean slate, which was essential given the huge damage caused by former Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley with his NHS reforms.
At best, you would consider the Tories would be hopeful of limiting the NHS as a score draw issue at the next election, more probably settling for a minor defeat (with attention focused elsewhere).
Is Hunt the man to neutralise the issue of the NHS with the public and mollify the NHS staff and unions?
Absolutely honestly, given his performances in the NewsCorp scandal I wouldn’t have much hope of this happening at all. Not least because many of the same unions who opposed Lansley have also strongly objected to Rupert Murdoch for a number of years so Lansley has been replaced with someone equally hated in their eyes.
As for the wider public, Hunt’s weak performances when under pressure will not pass much muster on an issue of central importance and complexity as the NHS. If Hunt couldn’t impress at Culture, it’s hard to see how he’ll do better at Health.
That said, the most important thing was to create a clean slate, which Cameron has done and while Labour people are shaking their heads in disbelief that Hunt has been promoted, Cameron was far more damaged by having Lansley stay put, and therefore I think on balance this keeps things just about the same for now.
Verdict: The Same
• Chris Grayling, the former welfare minister, has become justice secretary.
Ken Clarke makes way for Chris Grayling in a clear victory for the ‘right’ of the Tory party. Clarke gave a greater emphasis on non-prison orientated justice methods and the need for overall reform. Grayling, as an attack dog, will be expected to go much harder on the ‘prison works’ line.
Grayling meanwhile is most famous for his off-the-record remarks that gay couples should be allowed to be banned from B&Bs, which cost him an early shot at the cabinet.
Thinking about people who didn’t vote Tory in 2010 it’s hard to see how Grayling’s move is a positive one for the Tories. Yes, they might go harder on crime now, but if it is a move to shore up a crumbling core vote then it’s certainly not a move to keep your tanks parked on the centre ground.
Grayling was moved in 2010 precisely because such outdated views scare off reasonable and centrist voters. Moving him into a senior job now will bring all that back. It might not be a huge issue by 2015 but no doubt the ‘pink vote’ will be constantly reminded that a senior figure at the cabinet table is a holder of quite bigoted views.
Verdict: Less likely.
• David Laws has reportedly been made an education minister. That’s a promotion from the backbenches, although he will not be as senior was he was when he was briefly in cabinet as chief secretary to the Treasury.
David Laws is back as an education minister, but it won’t affect the Tories too much. Rather it could be more interesting for the Lib Dems. Although he is an ‘Orange Book’ Lib Dem MP and is more or less Conservative in his politics (outside of views that caused him to join the Lib Dems instead, e.g. the rampant Euroscepticism in the Tories and their difficulties in stamping out racism and homophobia in the party) he is a strong figure and perhaps seeing him in the government will be a positive reminder for the Lib Dems of their influence in power.
No difference to the Tories then, but you could imagine it shoring up the Lib Dem vote amongst their core support, which would be bad for Labour and the Tories depending on the seat being contested.
Verdict: No difference.
• Owen Paterson, the former Northern Ireland secretary, has become environment secretary.
Ostensibly a minor move, Twitter has been quick to lead on this due to Paterson’s seeming history as an environmentalist politician. I don’t know much about it personally but if this turns out to be true it is hard to see how this will help the Tories appeal to those who didn’t trust the party had sufficiently modernised to vote for them back in 2010.
Looking at Business Green’s summary it seems like to say he is anti-green would be a huge understatement. He’s also pro-fox hunting, which will only further alienate the general public, over 90% of whom oppose it.
If anything it’s another move that strengthens the hand of the right wing of the party.
That said, circumstances today are very different in 2012 than they were in 2010, and will be even more so in 2015. Will the centrist voter be more susceptible to an environmentalist message than they were in 2010?
Possibly. But if the message is coming from the Tories it does feel like it would risk falling into the ‘same old Tories’ camp. He would have to provide a strong, confident voice to sell a government line about shale fracking, for instance, to appeal to floating voters who put short-term jobs over long-term environmental impacts and win them over in greater numbers than those who will surely be repelled by such a message.
If you believed something should be done about climate change in 2010 then you’ll probably, surely, feel the same in 2015. In which case this move will not reassure those voters about Cameron’s pledge to be the ‘greenest government ever’.
Verdict: Less likely.
• Andrew Lansley, the former health secretary, has become Leader of the Commons.
Bearing in mind what I wrote above about what a mess Lansley made of the Health reforms, moving him on will definitely make it easier for the government to re-take control of the NHS as an issue.
Verdict: More likely.
• Kenneth Clarke has lost his post as justice secretary. But he will remain in the cabinet as a minister without portfolio.
As above, Clarke is seen by many as the ‘sixth Lib Dem in the cabinet’, for better or worse depending on your view point. His position as cabinet minister without portfolio could actually benefit Cameron though, who can still use him as a ‘Minister for Daybreak’ and put him on TV, or to pick his brains and utilise his vast government experience, without having him in a specific position that could attract the opprobrium from the Tory right.
Conversely moving him on from his relatively liberal penal reforms risks alienating those voters who supported his moves. I’ve measured that up for Grayling already though so on balance I don’t think Clarke being as a Minister without Portfolio will change things over Clarke being Justice Secretary.
Verdict: No difference.
• Justine Greening, the former transport secretary, has become international development secretary.
Greening can be expected to continue the official Cameroon line of supporting international development as an iconic policy of the intended centrist politics of Cameron’s modern Conservative Party. Moving her from transporter opens up the option of a third runway at Heathrow, but it’s difficult to properly gauge whether that would make the Tories more or less likely to win in 2015.
On the plus side it would show they were serious about growth and the large-scale projects some believe are needed to get growth. It would also help tie-up business support and leave anti-third runway Ed Miliband firmly against that business support.
On the other hand Cameron and co were unequivocal about their opposition to a third runway in 2010 and to reverse that position – and any watering down of that commitment will be blatantly obvious – would leave them open to a torrent of criticism from people closely affected by the building of a third runway and the relevant flight paths.
All in all, others have pointed out the benefit of having someone new in at Transport only because Greening was already firmly committed not to having a third runway. If the Tories do feel the need to go back on their support, at least now they don’t have to sacrifice Greening’s career to do so.
Nonetheless, it does look like the ground is being paved for a U-turn to end all U-turns, and whether the Tories can have an ambiguous manifesto commitment on the issue and still retain those votes in the South-East is another question.
Verdict: Less likely.
• Lady Warsi has lost her post as Conservative co-chairman. Instead she has been made a minister of state at the Foreign Office, with the right to attend cabinet, as well as being made minister for faith and communities.
As much as I don’t like Lady Warsi I did think Cameron would be absolutely bonkers to get rid of her altogether. Potentially the three biggest groups the Tories have most trouble attracting are Northerners, women and ethnic minorities, so for Cameron to jettison someone who is all three would have been mad.
That said, her double job seems a tad ridiculous.
Verdict: No difference.
Overall then, it seems clear that this reshuffle has shifted the Tory party further to the right while there are very few, if any, clear ‘wins’ that have come out of the reshuffle. Even moving Lansley is tempered by the fact that he has been replaced by Hunt.
If I was a right-wing voter, I’d be very happy with this reshuffle, but then I’d also be almost certainly voting Tory anyway. If I was someone who didn’t vote Tory in 2010 because I didn’t quite trust that they’d sufficiently modernised and moved to the centre ground, then I see little here that would persuade me that Cameron was continuing his modernisation project.
If the best Cameron is hoping for from this reshuffle is to shore up the Tory core support against UKIP or not voting at all, it doesn’t say much about his ambition for an outright election victory in 2015.
On the other hand, the importance of reshuffles has been known to be overstated, and on the central issue, that of the economy (and from that, jobs, debt and deficit), he has no room for manoeuvre anyway so the central team of himself and George Osborne necessarily remains intact.
Which, given what happened yesterday, might not bode well for the future.