Coffee House

David Cameron’s cosmetic exercise bemuses the Tories

15 July 2014

Today’s reshuffle has been largely about cosmetic improvements to the Conservative party — not just through the promotion of female MPs, but also by neutralising certain policy areas such as education and planning reform that had antagonised some groups. But an important element in any changing of the guard is party management, and not just managing cross sacked ministers. So how has the Conservative party reacted to today’s events?

Naturally, all Tory MPs are as startled as everyone else by Michael Gove’s departure. But it does make sense to them. Ministerial colleagues had grown increasingly frustrated that Gove, who polls very badly with the general public, was having fights and intervening on issues that either didn’t affect him or were what Lynton Crosby would consider ‘barnacles’. Number 10 may be insisting that this wasn’t a demotion, and it certainly wasn’t a vote of no confidence in Gove’s policies, but it is being seen as a demotion in the Tory party. Some are a little bit nervous that being one of the four broadcast ministers means the former Education Secretary will have even more opportunity to stir things up on the airwaves. But, if he has an official role as part of the Tory TV campaign machine, then his appearances and interventions will be better controlled. And while promoting Liz Truss would have made a great deal more sense, no-one is disputing Nicky Morgan’s calm, collected ability as a minister. Indeed, though the women appointed to Cabinet had more obvious positions than the ones they now occupy, it is difficult to argue that they haven’t earned their promotions: Truss, Morgan and Tina Stowell are all seriously impressive.


But the dust is still settling over whether there has been adequate compensation for Owen Paterson’s departure. Eurosceptics I have spoken to this afternoon are furious that he has gone. All say that he seriously knew his stuff and that the contrast with Truss, who has not up to this point shown a particular enthusiasm for ash trees, is particularly sharp. But on the other hand, Philip Hammond is now the Foreign Secretary. ‘We finally have some clarity,’ one senior backbencher told me, and many others agree. And Michael Fallon, another eurosceptic who is not afraid to speak out about the 2017 referendum, is Defence Secretary. These appointments should compensate for anger about Paterson’s departure. As for Liam Fox’s decision to turn down a minister of state job at the Foreign Office, there was some surprise that he had even been offered such a junior post. But it is wrong to assume that his appointment would have cheered the eurosceptic right anyway. A number of senior MPs on this wing of the party have today said they would not have welcomed his appointment because he is ‘tainted’. ‘Anyone who thinks this would have been a good thing for party management clearly hasn’t spoken to us for a long time,’ grumbles one senior rebel.

Michael Gove’s departure from Education was also surprising because he moved to Chief Whip, which everyone assumed Greg Hands would get. But this is a welcome surprise indeed for Tory MPs. Senior backbenchers say this would have been a disaster as Hands is far too much George Osborne’s man, and many disagree with his management style. But to be fair to Hands, many other MPs have been impressed over the past few months with the way he has operated as deputy chief whip. By contrast, Gove is as charming in private as he is pugnacious in public.

There is, though, a bit of frustration with the way the shuffle has been presented as the men being chased out and the women ushered in. Pitching women against men is a very aggressive way of doing a reshuffle, especially when some of the changes briefed in advance, such as a Cabinet post for Esther McVey, and a ‘Tory first lady’ failed to materialise.

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  • davidhill

    It does not matter who has been promoted or moved upwards on the greasy political pole of the UK government, as the people of the UK will still suffer as they have done in the past through inept and out-of-touch economic policies that have in real terms impoverished the British people for at least three decades now, and where things go from bad to worse by the decade now. The same can be said for the American people where their politicians have sold them down the Suwanee River over the last 30-years.

    ‘The UK’s and the USA’s ‘per capita Decline’ in Living Standards for more than 90% of the people is due entirely to our political classes’ Inept Management of their respective economies and the Control that Powerful Corporations have over our political leaders. Unfortunately with the Emerging Dominant Asian Economies this will lead to even more extreme poverty for 9 out of every 10 of both the British and American people’ –

    ‘Western Politicians and Corporate Leaders have sold people in the West down the Suwanee River’ –

    ‘ The ‘Establishment’ Makes Amends but where the ‘Establishment’ does not change its spots when it comes to its own’ –

    Therefore don’t hold your breath that these people will provide the UK’s economic salvation, as they will not based purely on historic facts.

  • Lady Magdalene

    Cameron is a PR spiv – nothing more – so of course this was about presentation.
    I fail to see how it has “neutralised” planning reform. In my part of the Surrey Hills the serfs are in revolt about the plans to impose large numbers of unwanted housing on villages and remove settlement areas from the green belt to facilitate even more development.
    And let’s get away from the spin that Philip Hammond is an EU sceptic. Check out his record on The Bruges Group website and you find that 62% of the time he has voted in favour of transferring more powers to the EU. He is another who believes we can be “in the EU but not governed by the EU” – which is ludicrous since the whole raison d’etre of the EU is to govern what were Sovereign nation states.

    • Denis_Cooper

      On January 11th 2011 MPs were asked whether they wanted the words:

      “The sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament in relation to EU law is hereby reaffirmed.”

      inserted into the European Union Bill.

      Only 39 MPs voted for that, Division No 161 at Column 253 here:

      Of those mere 39 MPs who voted to reaffirm the sovereignty of our national
      Parliament there were 27 Tory MPs, while 256 actually voted against it:

      and one of those was Philip Hammond, three places below Hague on the list of “Noes”.

      The Bruges Group rates MPs on how they have voted on key EU issues, and at – 62% Hammond is actually worse than Hague at + 4% and diammetrically opposed to Redwood at + 68%, so it beggars belief that the media are now claiming that Cameron has appointed a more “eurosceptic” Foreign Secretary.

  • Denis_Cooper

    Still spreading the misinformation that Hammond is a fierce “eurosceptic”, even fiercer than Hague pretended to be.

    • Lady Magdalene

      Of course they are. Cameron has either fooled the media or they are doing as instructed. It isn’t hard to find the truth:

      Check out Hammond’s record on The Bruges Group website and you find that 62% of the time he has voted in favour of transferring more powers to the EU.

  • Shenandoah

    David Cameron: the antithesis of statesmanship. Clearly looking for a non-place in history. There’s a first, anyway.

  • Davidh

    Wel, what do you expect from a PR man? You never know, though, it may just work and win him the next election.

    Because the depressing thing is that no matter how much sense people like Gove
    make, and how right they are, it doesn’t make any difference if people won’t vote for the Tory-white-men-club and they’ll lose the next election. Ed is just ridiculous, to be sure. The present government saved the economy from Labour’s ruin, no doubt. But if Dave couldn’t get enough people to vote for him against against dysfunctional Gordon Brown last time, what’s going to change this time?

  • Earlshill

    I knew when I read Tim Montgomerie in the Times yesterday that Esther McVey wouldn’t get a proper Cabinet post. The Cameroons still distrust her; she’s definitely not “one of us”. I’m quite surprised that she’s accepted this piece of window dressing. Really, all this reshuffle tells us is that the Cameroons absolutely hate and despise their supporters and activists with a sneering contempt that’s quite breathtaking. This will store up trouble for the next 10 months.

  • Benedict

    Fox realises that Cameron is doomed and the best position is to be well clear of his administration.
    It must be humiliating for the ladies to realise that they have gained their posts because of Cameron’s desire to employ positive discrimination for PR reasons.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Yes, and the careerists in those departments will keep them properly blindfolded as well, not that that will be too difficult.

      • Benedict

        Agreed. Thank you for your post.

  • John Dalton

    Yawn yawn yawn Isabel. Sorry – but no one cares. All the public see is a desperate PR man they don’t trust trying to suck up to the clueless hand-wringing metropolitan luvvies by being seen to promote some pretty unimpressive, inexperienced, strident women. That’s not anti-women – they’re just not very good and they’ve a raft of TV appearances between them to prove it. We all know it.

    Cameron is the un-conservative PM of an inreasingly un-conservative government. He doesn’t like conservatives and he’s made that perfectly clear. We won’t let him forget it.

    • Lady Magdalene

      I wonder how many times we’ll see the Anna Soubry (then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence, now Minister of State at Defence) who was invited onto QT to discuss the closure of Portsmouth Dockyard and admitted that she didn’t know the Govt was purchasing naval support vessels built in South Korea.
      She’s a loudmouth, foulmouthed liability. There’s nothing telegenic about her: personally I’m convinced she’s really a man in drag.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    ‘neutralising certain policy areas’

    AKA Surrender

  • swatnan

    This should kill Free schools stone dead, thank goodness.
    The State should not be supporting selectivity, exclusivity and pomposity.
    If they want a Free School, then let them pay for it themselves.

    • Shenandoah

      Wrong in every respect. Shame on you.

  • johnfaganwilliams

    Sorry to be unable to join the chorus of disapproval but, overall, I think the re-shuffle will look pretty good in three months’ time. Genuinely can’t understand Paterson – maybe Cameron just doesn’t understand the Shires or thinks that at the death they’ll vote for him anyway? Either way a powerful opponent of the ludicrous green lobby which is reducing Germany to a Russian dependent cypher power has gone which is a shame. For the rest it looks quite well calculated. Hague has been the worst Tory FS since the war – which obviously makes him better than any Labour one. Only bigots could suggest that the Conservatives don’t need more female, young or not from Eton cabinet members. For me 8/10 and a better chance of winning an overall majority next year – thank you a beneficent almighty

    • HookesLaw

      As long as we have the libdems in coalition the green issue – or the global warming issue – is a waste of time for the tories.
      I think 8 out of 10 is right. Everyone soon forgets the regular omnishambles of Blair and Brown reshuffles where 2 out of 10 was a good score.

      And Patterson, decent sort that he is? Do you really think any of the electorate apart from say 30,000 nutjobs have ever heard of him?

      • starfish

        He had little impact at Defra where they are all card carrying EU philes determined to destroy all that is left of the agriculture industry and put rural areas under water as long as wildlife habitat is saved/extended

    • southerner

      Yes let’s have more women. Not in the least cynically tokenistic.

      You are right about Vague though. The worst Tory FS in living memory.

  • The Commentator

    Progressive Conservative Greens, gullible idiots who belong in the Liberal Democrat party. Paterson was a capable minister who understood his brief, can see a lot of Tory votes in the shires migrating to UKIP. Gove’s fall is spectacular, only been an MP for nine years and already on the way down. Hammond, Fallon and Morgan all Heathite nonentities; will achieve nothing, deliver nothing, say nothing and leave.

    • Lady Magdalene

      Paterson was the nearest to a BOO in the Cabinet. That’s why he had to go: so that any influence he might have IF a Referendum is held is minimised.
      Can’t have any Cabinet Ministers recognising that the “renegotiated settlement” is a sham and advocating a NO vote.

  • dalai guevara

    Isabel, not much about today is cosmetic at all.
    Paterson’s sacking will be welcome news to progressive Conservative Greens. Who will be miffed, some special interest foodstuffs lobby? So what.
    Gove packing his bags and unpacking them elsewhere will be welcomed by many in CCHQ. His style is well-liked by many, inclusive as he is. Who will be peeved about it? Those who worry for a living and professional moaners. Tough.
    Hague’s leaving party was anticipated by many. Who will be surprised? No one.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Well yeah, you socialist nutters are likely happy. And your army of sockpuppets is undoubtedly happy. Except the goat, how’s the goat with all this, lad?

  • Jock

    Just another example of the modern focus on “doing the thing right” at the expense of “doing the right thing”. Mid Staffs -politically set targets met, patients dead. Replace Gove with somebody more politically acceptable, education reforms dead. A bad and weak move by Cameron – and a stupid one.

  • davebush999

    I can’t believe that the grey man Hammond is any improvement. And how did IDS and Shapps keep their jobs?

    • Kitty MLB

      I have no idea why my esteemed allowed Grant Shapps to keep his job.
      But my real bugbear is the Brilliant Michael Gove.. How can Nicky Morgan
      deal with the Feral NUT with the same efficiency. She’d probably struggle
      with the beautiful and statuesque but dim, Hon Tristram Hunt.

  • MalcolmRedfellow

    Everything you say about Mr Gove’s move may be correct: “neutralising certain policy areas”, “having fights”, “polls very badly with the general public” and so on.

    But that’s as true, in Spades redoubled, about Lieutenant Duncan Smith. And he’s still at DWP. “Barnacles”, indeed. Not to say, limpets.

    • telemachus

      But IDS now has equal status glamour girl Esther to keep him in check

    • styants64

      It’s Cameron who polls very badly he could not win the last election outright against the worst Government and prime minster we have had in the post WW2 Years.

      • Damon

        The last Labour administration was indeed dire, but if you think they were the worst government since the war you’ve forgotten Harold Wilson.

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