Monday, January 19, 2009

Cameron's Reshuffle: Round Pegs in Round Holes?

The key to any reshuffle, particularly when in opposition, is trying to get the right shaped pegs to fit the right shaped holes. This task isn't as easy as you might think; you have to work with the pegs that you have and those who are willing to be put into holes. You have to consider the wishes of the pegs and the importance of the holes. Then there are the skills of the pegs - in parliamentary terms, within the party or on the media perhaps. You need a balance of certain shapes to keep the party happy and the relationship between pegs.

So the remarkably smooth reshuffle and the shadow team which is now in place in even more astonishing given those restrictions.

The one casualty of the reshuffle is the very low key Peter Ainsworth; he's a good guy but really lacked the pro-activity which was needed. His Environment brief goes to Nick Herbert; a good choice, a sound Cameronite and will work well with Shadow Energy Secretary Greg Clark. Herbert's old Justice brief goes to Dominic Grieve. Grieve stepped in at very short notice to replace Shadow Home Secretary David Davis when he quit last year; Grieve's forensic intelligence will be put to better use against Jack Straw and I look forward to their clashes.

The Shadow Home Secretary job goes not to David Davis but to Chris Grayling; a great new Tory media star who has real political pitbull tendencies. He will really tear into Labour and Jacqui Smith should feel very vulnerable tonight; he has a great record of chasing Ministers from office. I had never really linked Grayling with the Home Affairs brief; so a very good if unexpected move from Cameron there.

Grayling's old job as Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary goes to Theresa May; this is certainly the most puzzling of today's moves but in many ways a good one. Theresa has for many years been pigeonholed as a female member of the frontbench; she's held such jobs as Shadow Families Minister - I think this may give her the chance to really get her teeth into a meaty job in government and show what she can do. I've always rated May and think she has to show her readyness for government in this position.

May's old berth, as Shadow Leader of the House, goes to Alan Duncan and far from just being pleased he kept a job in the top team, I am pleased he has been given a serious job. Duncan is a good performer and this position will give him plenty of scope in both the House and in the media.

And, of course, the Shadow Business post goes to former Chancellor Ken Clarke. As keener readers will know I am very pro-Clarke and backed him for leader numerous times. He is a bruiser and an effective political player. He reaches to parts of the country that not even Project Cameron can. Even as a Euro-Sceptic myself I am perfectly happy that Clarke can work within the party and deliver a powerful message on the economy. The team that Cameron has now put together in the economic portfolio is, indeed, the best in the country. Just a shame Clarke and Mandelson will never meet across the dispatch box ...

And finally is the job swap between Caroline Spelman and Eric Pickles as Party Chairman and Shadow Communities; I hope people give them both time to settle into what are going to be very tricky jobs. Spelman will have the whole unitary debacle to deal with; but I have great faith given her strong performance in the role a few years back. Pickles is certainly the grassroots favourite and he will have great expectations on his shoulders. He needs to talk to members, pick up on their concerns and act.

In short Cameron has indeed created a strong team - most of which are actually unchanged - and you can see this team moving forward into government. I would argue that we still have to find strong roles for David Davis and IDS; and Cameron must also offer the chance of real progression to the upcoming talent such as Justine Greening. He must also consider the enhanced role Damien Green may soon be playing.

But this must be one of the most dramatic - and important - reshuffles in many years.

No comments: