Cameron should continue to resist knee-jerk reshuffle politics

17 October 2011

When things get rough, especially in the area foreign policy, I have the distinct
feeling David Cameron asks himself the question “What would Tony do?” before he takes a big decision. But in the management of his Cabinet he can’t do that. Blair never had to
deal with coalition politics and did not have the equivalent of the Eurosceptic right to keep on board. Indeed, Blair would famously test a policy’s validity by how much it would annoy the
left of his party.

Liam Fox has gone now, and in the end it became impossible for him to stay. But in this slow political death, David Cameron did not follow Blair’s lead. New Labour reshuffles were a way of
cementing the Blair-Brown duumvirate in power and were a near-annual feature of the political landscape.

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There was a moment last week when it looked like Cameron might brazen it out. It would have been interesting to see how the media would have reacted had Fox somehow managed to hang on. The sport of
modern journalism requires the taking of scalps, but politicians have to play ball.

The jury is out on whether David Cameron should have moved more quickly to remove Liam Fox. But his instinct is to trust his ministers and devolve power to government departments. Had the Prime
Minister moved with Blair-like speed it is unlikely that we would have ever known the extent of Werritty’s unofficial network.

Cameron will have learnt a bitter lesson from this crisis and he will be tempted to rethink his approach to Cabinet politics. There are two reasons why I think it unlikely that he will do so.
Firstly, he just does not have the strength in depth in the junior-ministerial talent pool to justify a series of reshuffles during his first term in office. But, more importantly, key members of
the government are personally associated with the reforms they have introduced: Gove at Education, Lansley at Health and Duncan Smith at Work and Pensions are virtually un-moveable.

This was never the case with Liam Fox, who ultimately proved unworthy of the Prime Minister’s loyalty. It is absurd to suggest — as some on the Tory right have tried to do —
that  Liam Fox should still be in post. But in a time of deep uncertainty, Cameron is right not to demand a resignation at the first whiff of grapeshot.

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Show comments
  • rndtechnologies786

    Good think.

  • Haldane

    On re-reading your post, yes, I suppose we do, That said, I would place more emphasis on the fact that the main driver is the pursuit of better governance rather than a lack of talented replacements.

  • Martin Bright

    Haldane — I think we agree don’t we?

    Erica — I think you will find I am one of the few journalists to declare my Bicom trips. And in answer to your second question — why don’t you pick up a copy of this week’s Jewish Chronicle. I think you may find it interesting reading.

    Toodle pip

  • Haldane

    I think you misread the situation and in the process sell DC short on this. It is true that Cameron learnt a lot from observing Blair. One of the major lessons he and his advisers could see was that the country would have better government if ministers were left in place to master their briefs and get a grip of their departments. The Tories may not be fully exploiting the PR opportunities that reshuffles afford, but perhaps in the longer term, the electorate will realise that they have been more effective managers than Straw, Blunkett, Reid, Balls etc. Faces regularly seen and moved in the spiv days of your idols Tony and Gordon.My view is that the current Prime minister is determined to avoid putting party advantage above the national interest.A difficult concept for New Labour adherents to comprehend, but one easy enough to check out. Go ask.

  • Erica Blair

    How strange that Bright fails to mention how his and Werrity’s trips to Israel were funded by the same person, Poju Zabludowicz.

    What does Poju get for his money Martin?

  • david

    Of course who would remove someone like Letwin, a proven idiot, with someone who has yet to prove they are an idiot.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    So, let me get this straight. That bunch of children Ed M just promoted are the wave of the future. The selection of the many new tories who are fit for office is so hopeless that nothing can be done. OK, I understand.

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