Iain Duncan Smith’s decision to stay at DWP means that the reshuffle is not quite as radical as some in Downing Street were hoping it would be. But it still represents some significant shifts. First, party discipline and morale have been prioritised. Andrew Mitchell will lead a more robust Whips office and Grant Shapps will be an energetic chairman, though it is worth remembering that he had made clear in recent weeks he would prefer a department.
In policy terms, there appears to be a well-calibrated move to the right. Chris Grayling will argue for rehabilitation from a distinctly Conservative point of view. The departure of Greening and Villiers from Transport paves the way for the Tory side of the coalition at least to commit to doing what it takes to increase aviation capacity in the South East. Owen Paterson returning to mainland politics will also be welcomed by Tory MPs. It’ll be interesting to see what flexibility he is given on the EU aspects of his department, one former DEFRA minister told me recently that 80 per cent of its work relates to Brussels.
The biggest actual move of the reshuffle is undoubtedly Jeremy Hunt going to Health. This is not without its risks. Andrew Lansley understood the reforms that he’s embarked on and after all a torrid few months, the controversy over them had moved off the front pages. But appointing Hunt is a red rag to those on the left who’ve been enraged both by the coalition’s NHS reforms and its proximity to the Murdochs. The other challenge for Hunt will be the constant pressure he’ll be under, the medical world is not inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to a Tory health secretary.
Overall, this Cabinet is stronger in terms of communication. But it does seem a bit of waste to send Justine Greening, who unlike many Tories relishing scrappy campaigning, to a department where you’d struggle to put a cigarette paper between the policies of the three parties. There are also many who think that a place around the Cabinet table should have been found for Michael Fallon who is an indefatigable defender of Downing Street on the air waves.
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