David Maddox: Lib Dems cabinet reshuffle must wait

Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey arrive at 10 Downing Street yesterday. Picture: PA
Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey arrive at 10 Downing Street yesterday. Picture: PA
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RESHUFFLES are almost never a sign of political strength and invariably suggest a major problem at the heart of government. This is as true of what is expected to be David Cameron’s biggest reshuffle today as it is of ones in the past.

The Tories are seen as too old, too posh, too privately educated, too southern and, most of all too male. So “grey heads” such as Ken Clarke and Sir George Young are on their way out and in come three women: Esther McVey with a pleasing scouse accent, Liz Truss and Nicky Morgan. It has to be said though that all three are more than capable of replacing the men who are giving way for them.

The question is why for the first time in the coalition are the Lib Dems sitting out a reshuffle? Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg decided to wait until October, perhaps delaying it until after his party’s annual conference.

If the Tories need to improve their image with women the same is true of the Lib Dems after the scandals surrounding Lord Rennard and Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock.

There is a chronic lack of Lib Dem women MPs let alone ministers, and none in the cabinet. The reason for the delay though is because they are waiting to see what happens to Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael in the independence referendum. If there is a No vote, he is a hero and gets a promotion. If there is a Yes vote he has to fall on his sword. Either way, the next Scottish Secretary is likely to be the East Dunbartonshire MP Jo Swinson, now returned from maternity leave.

Ms Swinson’s promotion would ease the problem the Lib Dems have with women but more importantly she is the best of the next crop of Lib Dem MPs and deserves her chance.

But if she comes in, somebody has to go. If Carmichael is a winner it will not be him and there has been speculation about energy secretary Ed Davey, who is fancied by some as a future leader.

However, this could be the moment when Mr Clegg considers the position of Vince Cable. The Business Secretary has been a thorn in Mr Clegg’s side throughout the coalition and may have been involved in the failed coup attempt organised by his close friend Lord Oakeshott. But most importantly, Mr Clegg now has an excuse to sack Mr Cable because of the botched privatisation of Royal Mail. Most ministers struggle to survive losing the taxpayer at least £1 billion.

The timing could be significant. Cable is adored by the party faithful and sacking him before the Glasgow conference in autumn could see him become a focal point for members’ widespread unhappiness with Clegg’s leadership. Do it after the conference and Mr Cable would have less of a platform to lead a popular rebellion.