David Maddox: Leadership reshuffle may be on the agenda in conference season
THIS is the final week before the party conference season, a fortnight-long jamboree largely arranged to convince voters that MPs are not slacking off.
But, as the gatherings approach, there is now much to concern Messrs Cameron and Clegg. Instead of improving matters, the Cabinet reshuffle has actually made things worse.
In fact, as the dust begins to settle following a weekend of acrimony, it is now hard to see how the reshuffle could have gone worse, given that it was unforced and still relatively early on in the government, with a host of fresh MPs to choose from. Gordon Brown’s reshuffles were bad, but at least had the excuse of being at the fag-end of 13 years of Labour government, and often had matters forced on him by resignations.
For David Cameron, the reshuffle has opened up a new front of rebels over the expansion of Heathrow. These include former friends, such as millionaire Zac Goldsmith, who fell in love with the Prime Minister’s now ditched modernising agenda. And the talk of Boris Johnson returning and mounting a challenge is becoming more than mere gossip.
Meanwhile, Cameron has promoted right-wingers Chris Grayling to justice, Owen Paterson to environment and Maria Miller to take charge of equalities, and, in doing so, dumped his environmental, hug-a-hoodie and pro-gay marriage agenda.
A few of the flaws in his leadership have been highlighted in the way he carried out the reshuffle. His treatment of Caroline Spelman and Cheryl Gillan has reinforced the criticism that he could do better with women. His capitulation to Iain Duncan Smith, who refused to move from work and pensions, has shown him to be weak.
Meanwhile it is clear that the one man most thought should be shuffled off – Chancellor George Osborne – was instead pulling the strings, allowing critics to suggest that Cameron’s reliance on Osborne is too great.
But if it was bad for the Prime Minister, there was also damage suffered by his deputy, Nick Clegg. The Lib Dem leader’s decision to abandon defence and the Foreign Office for international development and Defra was bewildering. There are many in his party now who worry about the loss of control on the Trident policy, and the fact that by abandoning two great departments of state the Lib Dems look even more peripheral than they did previously.
But perhaps most damaging of all for Clegg is that after Vince Cable’s open contempt for the coalition, he was not moved – and Clegg’s reward was Cable’s open love-in on Sunday with Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls, another sign that Clegg’s authority is ebbing away.
Reshuffles are supposed to restore the leadership’s authority and breath new life into a government. On the evidence so far, last week’s messy affair has managed to do the opposite for Cameron and Clegg.
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