By Garvan Walshe, Director, Cogitamus Limited
“If you vote for David Davis, Andrew Mitchell will become chief whip…” warned David Cameron’s supporters during the Tory leadership campaign. Now Mr Mitchell has, and obituaries for Tory modernisation are being written. Out goes Ken Clarke from Justice. There is one fewer woman in the cabinet. Justine Greening stays at the top table, but at International Development she’ll be using Heathrow’s existing runways not blocking new ones. It’s rumoured that the new Environment Secretary doesn’t believe in climate change. The new Party chairman is a nice young white man from the south of England.
Those who find fault with David Cameron will have their suspicions confirmed. Does he cut friends slack he denies to others? Well, Jeremy Hunt is the new Health Secretary, despite his handling of the BSkyB bid for Sky News. That squeaky wheels get all the grease? Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague refused to be moved. The triumph of personality over policy? Disappointed wonks need only point to Nick Herbert and Greg Clark, overlooked once more.
This is perhaps a little too cynical. Ken Clarke makes a superb Minister for the Today Programme: popular and articulate, he will defend the Government’s case with panache and without the distraction of having to run a department. His replacement at Justice, Chris Grayling, has the chance to sell radical prison and policing reforms to Middle England. The experienced and hard-working Andrew Mitchell is more than just a bruiser. He is, crucially, not one of Mr Cameron’ own men, and could give the whipping operation greater legitimacy among the rebels. Nick Boles, the leading pro-Cameron policy thinker, has finally been admitted to the Government. He is there to push through planning reforms the Prime Minister and Chancellor see as vital to economic growth. Eric Pickles and the department’s nimbys are also on notice: Mr Boles speaks for No. 10.
And by moving Justine Greening to International Development, Mr Cameron has removed a hurdle of his own making. His style is not to think implications through. It would not be without precedent if he had simply forgotten her position on the expansion of Heathrow when he appointed her to Transport in the first place. It’s also wrong to see International Development as a demotion. It has a large budget, and Ms Greening has always had a strong interest in international affairs. Besides, it’s better to be known as Secretary of State for Helping Poor People, than as Minister for Train Delays and Fare Increases.
Patrick McLoughlin has no constituency interest in Heathrow. His appointment is important because it sends precisely that signal. It makes it easier for the Tories to go into the next election promising new runways or airports. But, like so many of the other changes, it counts mainly as a signal. Mr Cameron is still stuck. Because he didn’t win the election, he lacks legitimacy and needs to appease his party by moving to the right. But because he didn’t win the election, he has to govern in coalition with the Lib Dems, and can’t actually move rightwards. All he can do is send messages. Each time he does (as on Europe, welfare policy, and the Human Rights Act), his Party settles down for a while. Then they realise that nothing can really change as long as the Coalition lasts, and will damn him once more for being a PR-man.Posted Wednesday, September 5th, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Filed under News