Coffee House

Reshuffle 2014: Beware the revenge of the ‘Uglies’

18 July 2014

There are two reasons why David Cameron’s cull of the ‘Uglies’ – the Conservative ministers who don’t perform well on camera – had to be so vast. The first is that the Tories need an unprecedented increase in support in order to secure an outright majority – but they have a weak brand that doesn’t appeal to the electorate. With the exception of David Cameron, Tories don’t appeal to the public – because they don’t look like them. That’s something that couldn’t have be fixed with a little light pruning, lopping off just one or two grey-haired junior ministers.

The second is that Cameron needed new, different faces to take advantage of Labour’s vulnerabilities. We’re just months away from the election but Ed Miliband still hasn’t won public confidence in his leadership. People think he’s weak, and the public don’t like his Shadow Cabinet either. Labour doesn’t have enough time to reverse the situation, so even though its troops might fight more convincingly over policy, it is the fight to win on personality that is the Tories’ greatest opportunity for 2015.

The reshuffle was the right decision electorally, but the spurned Uglies are set to cause trouble for David Cameron. Many of them are seething at the sidelining of loyal party servants who represent the more traditional wings of the party. The more realistic among these tormented souls know, however, that whatever their discontent with team Cameron, they are far less appealing to the electorate than he is – and they have no attractive figurehead who could change that situation.

So they are biding their time. They know that the next Parliament spells huge trouble, even if Cameron does find himself back in No 10. If he forms another coalition or a minority government the Conservative party will implode in existential angst at not having won an election in a quarter of a century. And any Conservative government without a stonking great majority will consume itself in internecine fighting over Europe.

Claim your gift

The uncertainty over Cameron’s prospects in the next Parliament threatens to become a major distraction in the election campaign – unless he can develop a narrative that quashes it. The most direct option is to set out a positive programme of new ideas and reform for the next Parliament, which is separate from the issue of Europe, and show people something more than just a ‘long-term economic plan’. Linking the government’s performance on the public finances with policies that lead to an increase in living standards is critical to success at the ballot box. In that sense the content of the Conservatives’ manifesto is crucial.

All of which leads us back to the reshuffle. The biggest move, arguably, was of Michael Gove from the schools brief. He was, according to Ben Page at Ipsos Mori, the most unpopular education secretary since polls began asking 15 years ago. So it’s no surprise that David Cameron wanted to silence the noise and controversy around him.

But Gove was also education’s biggest reformer for generations, and reform of any public sector shibboleth is controversial, as even the emollient Tony Blair found. And the task Gove was setting out to tackle – shaking up the system so that it no longer consistently fails our poorest children – still needs to be done with the same pace and zeal as he applied; or progress on this vital agenda will stall.

Similarly, who will grip the crisis of unsustainable demographic pressure on the NHS and social care systems, both of which are now in desperate need of reform? What about squaring the contradictory desires to not upset anyone on planning while also building more homes? These massive policy issues will not melt away with the arrival of the election campaign – they will get greater exposure.

It is right to shake out the curmudgeons, malcontents and underperformers from a cabinet. But no party can rely on having more people preening into cameras. Tough policy problems require people with the guts and zeal to think big and take on serious reforms. Let’s hope the Uglies’ replacements are up to the challenge.

Sean Worth is the founder of Westminster Policy Institute and a former senior policy advisor to the Prime Minister

Give the perfect gift this Christmas. Buy a subscription for a friend for just £75 and you’ll receive a free gift too. Buy now.

Show comments
  • Amir

    Check this article out about Michael Gove’s demotion:

  • cambridgeelephant

    If the idiot who wrote this was ‘a senior adviser to the PM’ this tells us a lot about what passes for Cameron’s thinking.

  • Retired Nurse

    Its so he can blame them when it all hits the fan…

  • Gwangi

    So 4th rate women and ethnics replace nasty white men who have been sacked or demoted for the gender and skin colour. Errrr….ain’t that what we used to call racism and secksism? Is it OK if white men are its victim then? Apparently, yes. And of course all the diversity industry queens and the blacks + women who are likely to get unfair advantage support that development – one can see the results in EVERY state-funded body, the BBC,. the House of Lords etc. Flinging vile abuse at men and white men in particular has become de rigour – but it is still bigotry and bullying. And females can be the most vile, snide and biitchy bullies around (as any teacher knows).

    But really, the most discriminated against group in the UK is white males who do not come from a well-off or well-connected background – as so many women and ethnics do (public schools are 20% ethnic at least). How can anyone vote for anyone who has come through an all-woman shortlist anyway? Pathetic.

    Me – I shall never again be voting for a woman or a black candidate because I know their selection will have been based on discriminating against white men.
    Oh and surely in politics the most discriminated against group is BALD men?

    • RobertC

      You have to admit, Hague had to be moved.

      • Gwangi

        He resigned though; Cameron had no intention of getting rid of him in his racist anti white men purge.
        Yep, he’s a baldie too – but the law says only one is allowed in front line politics at any one time, apparently…

    • Damaris Tighe

      Churchill could not be PM in the 21st century on the grounds of baldness alone.

  • Brian J.

    I don’t know. Several of the poorer media performers like Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa May were left in place, and Fox was actually brought back. The cull was only half vast.

  • Conway

    it is the fight to win on personality that is the Tories’ greatest opportunity for 2015.” I despair! No wonder Wavy Davy’s mob are going to lose and they deserve to. Personality? What about sensible policies? What about listening to the concerns of the electorate (and that doesn’t mean fobbing them off with meaningless promises that everybody knows will be ditched as soon as they’ve been re-elected)? What about – and here’s a radical thought – actually doing what Conservatives traditionally do? You know, things like shrinking the state, reducing taxes, encouraging self reliance and personal responsibility, supporting the (traditional) family.

    • Damaris Tighe

      The Tories stopped supporting the traditional family decades ago.

  • Conway

    With the exception of David Cameron, Tories don’t appeal to the public – because they don’t look like them.” How shallow can you get? I don’t need to be represented by somebody who looks like me (short and red-haired), I need to be represented by somebody who has sensible policies that put the good of the nation first. The reason the Tories don’t appeal to me (and I’m a former Conservative voter) is because they aren’t Conservative any more! They are New Labour lite and Dave is truly the Heir to Blair (whom I detested).

    • GraveDave

      Theresa May, Ian Duncan Smith, George Osborne, Chris Grayling, Michael Gove…. all Conservative and all right wingers.

      • Conway

        Teresa May – failed to meet targets even on “net” immigration. IDS – good ideas, but the reforms have stalled (and Dave would have got rid of him if he hadn’t known where the bodies were buried). Grayling – who? Gove, I grant you, is a sensible chap (which probably equates to right winger in some quarters), but he was sacrificed on the altar of NUT strikes because Dave doesn’t want to stand up to the unions (and I say that as a former teacher). With the notable exception of Gove who at least was starting to undo some of the mayhem of the last 13 years, which of them has actually achieved anything?

    • Damaris Tighe

      I’d happily be represented by a short redhead – my late husband was one & a lovely man he was too.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Sean Worth, your words here have little worth. The emperor has no clothes, lad, and in 9.5 months, the electorate is going to mount his head on a spike. Your sycophancy does nobody any good, least of all him.

  • Gizzard Puke

    Some were warning about Cameron before he even won the Tory leadership election 9 years ago none of this can be a surprise surely! Find out about his first political hero Tim Rathbone.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Well, Dave’s hero was the very definition of “empty suit”, then.

  • Peter Stroud

    This reshuffle shows Cameron up for what he is: a consummate PR man. If he thinks that promoting a few women and removing efficient ministers, to play to focus groups, will win him the election, he is sorely mistaken. Unless the replacements do as well as those they replace, votes will go.

    • Gwangi

      Yep, but the electorate have been brainwashed with the myth (ie lie) that diversity (by which people ALWAYS mean racial and gender diversity, NOT diversity of opinion or life experience) is in and of itself a good thing which which get good results.

      Evidence from business shows this to be utterly false.

      Evidence from many fields shows if you select the most able, your team will be mostly white and male.

      Of course, discriminating against people because of their skin colour and gender is seen as ‘A BAD THING’ – except when the victims are the minority group white men (40% of the population).

      What we do NOT have is any diversity of opinion around, or any diversity in backgrounds – what with so many posh women and ethnics, most who have been to public schools, most who have never done a proper job (I do not count PR as one of them, actually).

      • Damaris Tighe

        Yes, diversity only works one way. I recently discovered, to my amazement, that the native English in Tower Hamlets are still the largest group.

        • Simon Delancey

          Actually, that’s not true. According to the 2011 Census data, 69 per cent of the borough’s population belong to minority ethnic groups (ie not White British):

          55 per cent belong to Black and Minority Ethnic) groups, and 14 per cent are from White minority groups (East European).

          • Damaris Tighe

            I stand corrected. I was trying to remember something that had surprised me about Tower Hamlets’ ethnic makeup. Maybe it was simply that the Bengali group was not a majority.

            • Simon Delancey

              Yes, I understand that the borough does not have an Asian majority, despite the fact that many people seem to believe so.

  • swatnan

    Lets hear it for the Uglies!. Stand up and be counted! March on Downing Street!
    There’s too much window dressing around these days, cutuies babes and dollibirds.

    • Damaris Tighe

      And the Anne Widdicombes.

  • Fergus Pickering

    How many wings has the party got? Six, like an Archangel?

  • misomiso

    yes. The main failing of the right is their inability to produce an electable leader since Margeret Thatcher. Even politicians popular withing their own group (Owen Patterson) do not connect with the public.

    However if Cameron wins the next government will have 5 more Cabinet jobs up for grabs, which would certainly mean a return of Owen Patterson and some other right wingers, as well as lower level ranks.

    Best thing for the right is to stay loyal and work for a majority, then force Cameron to end Freedom of Movement in the renegotiation.

    • Conway

      If – such a small word, but so powerful!

    • Lady Magdalene

      It is virtually impossible for Cameron to win a majority.
      And what is there to stay loyal to? Cameron? A man who has declared that regardless of the outcome of any renegotiation with the EU, he will never advocate leaving?
      A Party with a policy of maintaining our EU membership and engaging constructively (ie remaining on the escalator to Ever Closer Union)?

      • misomiso

        Whats teh alternative though? GO into opposition and to rebuild all over again? Better to back Cameron and then openly pressurise him to get more back from the EU post election.

        Big mistake if Patterson now becomes disloyal.

        • RobertC

          He could state the obvious, like the climate models’ lack of credibility, and the climate modellers(!), the Somerset flooding was caused by lack dredging, closing coal fired power stations before their planned demise is bonkers and Drax is sucking in ‘a lot’ of taxpayers cash.

          He only needs to be asked the questions, and it will true!

  • Smithersjones2013

    Does Worth realise how vacuous, superficial and just plain insulting the start of this article is? Does he and Cameron seriously think that everyone but the dumbest Westminster Freakshow Tory sycophants does not recognising such patronising behaviour by the Prime Minister. Does he seriously think that putting unprincipled pretty people in front of the camera peddling cameron’s puerile prevarications will make the slightest bit of difference.

    For the 10 to 15% of the pre 2010 Tory support that have now abandoned the party the two greatest ‘uglies’ are still there. Cameron and the constantly sneering Osborne are the ultimate uglies.

    Cameron scores better than his party with people who will never vote Tory for a myriad of reasons not least of which is that Cameron’s grip on the leadership is tenuous and the likelihood is he will not be around post 2017 whatever happens!

    That the substance of the likes of Gove, WIllett and Paterson is now dispatched to the backbenches only further emphasises what a vacuous hollow PR Stunt the Tory party have become under Cameron.

    The only thing Worth is right about is that Cameron’s is treading in quicksand and sooner or later the Toories will drag him under for good. When they do the only regret will be they didn’t do it before because he has split the right irrevocably, further divided his party to the pooint where the division and dysfunctionality will be irrevocable. BROKEN TORIES.

    Which of course is another big reason not to vote Tory. They are a busted flush!

    • Tim Baker

      I can’t wait to see Ukip’s absurd manifesto in September. Then we all can have a good laugh.

  • Magnolia

    Whilst attending my child’s recent graduation ceremony they were also giving out awards for a BA in Educational Studies.
    Of the twenty or so graduates in this subject only one was a man.
    Education is now a feminized profession.
    I believe this is why Mr Gove was dumped because the PM is so desperate for women’s votes that he could not be seen to upset the women workforce in the state education sector.
    It remains to be seen whether this is good for the country or merely good for keeping his person in No 10.

    • dado_trunking

      Well, I find it utterly despicable that an incumbent would even try to do such a thing.

    • Lady Magdalene

      Precisely. Cameron wanted a woman running the D of Ed. She won’t make any policy changes – there’s very little time in which to do so before the GE. But she will smooth relations with the predominantly female educational Blob and the militant teaching unions. And she’ll look presentable on the telly.
      What a pathetic way to run the country.

    • Gwangi

      I believe 29% of teachers are male; 30-40 years ago 50% were male.

      Education is indeed utterly feminised, created and run by females for females – hence the way the female way of doing things is see as THE ONLY WAY in both class rooms and staff rooms across the land. No wonder the education system is failing boys – yet boys score higher IQ scores than girls and dominate the top levels. Interesting huh?

      Many education ministers in the past have been women (Thatcher, Shirley Williams etc) so it’s nothing new at all though. However, the woman appointed knows NOTHING about education and has no record in that area – a man equally ignorant would not have been appointed.

      • Damaris Tighe

        I agree with your analysis. It’s been demonstrated that education is failing working-class & ‘underclass’ boys who don’t respond as well to touchy-feely collaborative methods. Not to mention that these are the boys who often come from fatherless ‘families’ & need male role models.

        I wouldn’t take IQ levels too seriously though. Although I support the re-introduction of grammar schools, IQ only tests a certain sort of intelligence that perhaps favours boys.

  • Frank

    So you think that Dave appeals to the public? He may be more popular than Miliband, but that is hardly a proper contest. I suspect that most people would consider that Dave was the problem, not the solution.

  • davidofkent

    The aim of the reshuffle is blindingly obvious so needs no further comment. I don’t think the demoted ministers will give David Cameron any trouble this side of the election. They will allow him the rope with which to hang himself. After the election, however, Cameron will be toast if he does not manage a good Conservative majority.

    • Conway

      He’s browning at the edges already!

      • Damaris Tighe

        Although he looks in far better physical health than Clegg. Clegg looks as if power isn’t suiting his digestion – positively haggard.

    • Lady Magdalene

      I think they will give him trouble this side of the election – but not enough to be the killer blow. The electorate will be left to do that.

  • dalai guevara

    The *sacking* of the utterly incompetent Secretary of State for Monsanto, Repeat Flooding and Badger H*ll came as no surprise to the right thinking Conservative Greens. Something had to be done, something was done, with a bit of a delay I admit. What matters is the message that sends.

    • global city

      But, it was the wrong thing to have done.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      What matters is that you are a socialist nutter, fabricating an army of sockpuppets to pollute this site with incoherent gibberish.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Portillo was right about this last night. He articulated it beautifully – wish I could recall his exact words. Essentially the defeat of elected reform in the face of unelected vested interests, setting an unfortunate precedent.

    • telemachus

      It is absolutely ridiculous to state that
      Gove kept on saying he aimed to give the whole population the kind of energy available to the top11%
      But his chosen mechanism of educational social Darwinism had the opposite effect
      Some think he was incompetent for this
      But I recognise evil intent when I see it

      • Colonel Mustard

        “But I recognise evil intent when I see it”

        Every time you shave or clean your teeth no doubt.

      • Colonel Mustard

        You’d soon change your tune if it was an unelected right wing lobby impeding a Lieborg minister.

        The consensus on This Week was that this has implications for ALL governments intent on education reform, that Gove was pursuing policies continued from Blair and that it was not what he was doing but the way he was doing it. Cretinous make-believe like “social Darwinism” contributes nothing to an objective assessment so calling Portillo’s statement “absolutely ridiculous” can be safely put in the category glass houses and stones.

      • global city

        meaningless twaddle. The evil is in the blob

      • Kitty MLB

        You just like stirring don’t you telemachus, you
        have been sent here from the stygian gloom of Labour
        just to torment. You speak with that intent, always.

        • telemachus

          The gates of h*ll are open night and day;
          Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
          But to return, and view the cheerful skies,
          In this the task and mighty labor lies.
          The last four years saw the descent to Hades brokered by satanic Gove
          We are now returning to cheerful skies

        • Colonel Mustard

          You have him bracketed. The little tinker’s (I’ve spelt that wrong) “comments” are full of PIGS.


      • Ordinaryman

        I give credit to you for your self affirming ability to “recognise evil intent”. Which places me in a conundrum when I realise that you loyally support your socialist comrades in Russia, China and elsewhere. Socialist states which have murdered tens of millions of there own people and. in my opinion, portray real evil to the extreme.

  • telemachus

    don’t like his Shadow Cabinet either
    They in truth love the charismatic footballer Ed B
    And the Scouse man of the people Andy
    Not to say the truly photogenic Hunt
    And a veritable bevy of lovely ladies

    • Colonel Mustard


    • Smithersjones2013

      Why do you refer to the men as individuals and by name whereas you refer to the women as an anonymous collective. How very condescending to and dismissive of those women that is and how very sexist of you!

      • Makroon

        Just like you did above ? “pretty and unprincipled” were your chosen words.
        I thought Tele’s post was pretty droll for a change.
        Still, if kippers had a sense of humour, they would long since have seen the funny side of having Downe’s answer to Keith Floyd as a party leader.

    • RavenRandom

      Comical Tele at his best. You lie as you breathe. What’s even sadder is you know it. Let’s face it the population dislike politicians more than ever, and Labour’s shadow cabinet are an especially unappealing lot.
      Sometimes I think we should get rid of the lot of them and choose MPs by lot.

  • HookesLaw

    The latest poll puts them level with Labour. The last ICM put them ahead.

    Once again we have another bit of Speccy speculation. The PM does not do something the Speccy spouts. The PM does do something the Speccy spouts. If the PM (any PM) does not reshuffle then he offends those looking for promotion – if he does reshuffle then he offends those he demotes. If he compromises he get the worst of both worlds.
    Well!! Shock horror!!

    • Colonel Mustard

      When Hardman appeared on This Week last night I thought her pro-Labour bias was pretty bleedin’ obvious.

      • dalai guevara

        Ohhhh Colonel! The wimmin deserve their chance. They cannot be any worse than what just left the building, forever, never to return, Liam Fox light style.

        • Colonel Mustard

          You don’t get any better. The only meme that is getting through here is your capacity for stalking and commenting incomprehensibly about the politics of someone else’s country. At this point I’d like to invoke some wartime invective about the nature of Germans but I’ll restrain myself.

          • dalai guevara

            You may invoke whatever you like, call me all the names you wish – it will not change the facts that wimmin will now have a go and that those ousted have left for a reasons entirely down to the realpolitik of *this* country.

            • Colonel Mustard

              “You may invoke whatever you like, call me all the names you wish”

              I know that. Choosing not to is another exercise of free will that you and your Euro-kameraden have no control over. Besides goon-baiting is wholly inappropriate in this day and age.

      • Blindsideflanker

        I didn’t see her last night , but when I have seen her on programs like Question Time I have been surprised at the positions she has taken considering she works for the Spectator.

        • Colonel Mustard

          A clue is in the resident Lieborg troll’s extraordinary public assertion that he is chummy with her in trying to get conservative commentators here “proscribed”. Anyone prepared to facilitate the frothing of that extremist nutjob must be held in deep suspicion.

    • Blindsideflanker

      You Gov have increased the gap and put them 7 points behind Labour.

      • Denis_Cooper

        But that is an opinion poll which doesn’t support what HookesLaw says and so obviously it must be wrong. Only polls which show the Tories overtaking Labour have any validity and are worth mentioning.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here