Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Question of Big Beasts

When I read in this morning's Telegraph that David Cameron is planning to give Stephen Dorrell a job in a future Conservative government, I almost had to check he was still in Parliament. Quite what he has done over the last three years to warrant that accolade is difficult to fathom.

In January I asked David Cameron whether he agreed that he had a choice to make - form a government of the best talents and the biggest beasts available, or fill it with those who had done the legwork in opposition. He didn't demur. It seems he has now made his choice. It's not one I disagree with, but if it is to work he should forget about giving Dorrell a cabinet job. By common consent he was a disaster as Culture Secretary and Health Secretary in the 1990s. He is, however, terribly nice and comes across on the media as inately reasonable.

Peter Lilley and Malcolm Rifkind, on the other hand, are a different kettle of fish. Neither would be a long term appointment, but people like them will be incredibly important during the first two years of a Cameron administration.

I expect him also to offer IDS a cabinet post in a newly created Department of Social Justice. There is also a persistent rumour that James Arbuthnot will edge out Liam Fox from the Defence portfolio.

The big beast question to which no one knows the answer is this: will he offer a return to the top table to David Davis, and if so, what post could it possibly be? And even more to the point - what post could offer that Davis could accept?

Such questions will no doubt preoccupy us all during the supposedly politically quiet days of August.


Chris said...

Well at conference in your session with David Davis in the Freedom Zone (which had a far smaller audience than I'd expected) he said that he would love to perform the role of chief secretary to the treasury - where presently Philip Hammond is doing a sterling job

Anonymous said...

Who is David Davis?

Anonymous said...

"Don't count your chickens before they hatch"

Not a sheep said...

David Davis must be brought back. He can communicate with the public and has a "backstory" to rival that of Alan Johnston" the current Labour "chosen one"

KP said...


As someone firmly rooted in the "nice" wing of the tories I find myself in agreement with you more times that Id like sometimes

but Peter Lilley!!!

If Cameron wants to make people hark back to the Dying days of Major immediatley then giving Lilley a job is the right way to go about it.

No Probs with Rifkind, although I do think he got off very lightly for some of his expense "Issues"

i.e claiming for numerous flights to Scotland despite representing Kensington + Chelsea

Anonymous said...

Just checked on Stephen Dorrell on theyworkforyou.com, before this month he hadn't spoken in the House at all since last year.

golden_balls said...

I actually found Dorrell rather good and very media friendly Major seemed to like him which always counted against him for me.

you mention Rifkind ! wasn't he another tory that was about to defect when brown entered downing street ? he has a hectoring style which doesn't lend himself well to people.

Finally Peter Lilley he's good at making lists and singing so that does help him in this xfactor era.

Blair had to make similar appointments in 1997 people who probably wouldn't have been promoted but who else was there.

what is your fascination with DD i know you were on his campaign team but he made an ass of himself when he resigned and caused DC problems he didn't need.

Anonymous said...

Loving the new pace on the blog, btw. Thanks, Iain. Always a pleasure to read, even for someone who isn't a Tory.

Man in a Shed said...

Its an interesting question to raise just as the Summer recess starts isn't it ?

It Will Come to Me said...

What about John Redwood?

Disco Biscuit said...

If we're intending to push through the Lisbon Treaty, David Davis might have some experience he could bring to the Whip's Office. Other than that, I doubt very much he would be of use.

My view is that, in general, the best thing you can do with a loose cannon is to cut it adrift.

Dr Sexy said...

When was it announced that Dave will definitely lead the Tories to victory at the next election?

Gordon, sadly, has shown a remarkable ability to survive.

Contrary to the vast majority of opinion polls over the past few years, I can't see the British public, en masse, voting for an old Etonian.

Anonymous said...

Did not that political giant John Selwyn Gummer get a mention? If the Dorrell story is true the lad needs more help than even I thought.An Etonian at defence would provide a further comfort blanket.
PS Lilley the pink may be taking it a bit far!

Anonymous said...

Looks like you think you have won already.

Anonymous said...

Tories haven't won it. Labour have LOST it.

Anonymous said...

Personally I think Riffkind should be Defence Secretary and David Davies brought back to Home Office. Grayling is ineffectual and I could never understand why he was promoted to Shadow Home Office Minister. He has poor TV presence and his latest gimmick of confiscating mobiles from obnoxious youths says it all. Then what about Redwood as Chief Sec to the Treasury. Perhaps Liam Fox could be moved to Health as surely that is more his forte than Defence.

Anonymous said...

David Davis is a talented politician who has convictions. For this, he is to be admired. But this must be tempered against his maverick nature, which leads to ill-discipline.

If his antics have caused the Tories embarrassment in opposition, just imagine the damage he could do to them in government.

Yes, politicians should not be totally immersed in the partisan nature of the Commons, becoming mere robots with no scope for personal conscience, but there is a limit. I think Davis crosses this. Discipline and integrity in equal measure; not dramatic resignations to find by-elections against no-one but yourself, thank you very much.

Dimoto said...

KP - precisely !
Dorrell is the mirror image of ace Labourite dissimulator Denham. Two towering mediocrities.

There should be a massive surge of top new Tory talent after the next election. It beggars belief that Cameron will reappoint the tattered remnants of the 'Major army'. A system of formal mentoring might work though.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have an inkling of why Redwood is continually overlooked? I remember reading that only two people saw the bank collapse coming. One was Jeff Randall and the other John Redwood. I know the latter can get quite heated on political shows, and doesn't suffer fools gladly, but surely someone with such an acute brain and real business experience should be part of the Treasury Team??

What do others think?

albertmbankment said...

I don't about anyone else, but Peter Lilley is certainly a wasted resource. He's clever, human, empathetic, witty and adaptable. As long as he is NEVER (ever, EVER) allowed to sing in public again, he could be a tremendous asset in a Cameron government.

OTOH, the occasional duet with Jeremy Hardy might have some comic value for masochists.

Carl Gardner, Head of Legal said...

That phrase - "big beasts" - was used a lot in the 1997-2005 period, and I have to say it confirmed in my mind that they were completely unrealistic about where they were politically, and how little they cared about getting power back.

I reckon you have only one political "big beast" in the shadow cabinet - Ken Clarke. The rest are only big beasts if you think high office inside the Conservative Party is enough in itself to lend you serious political status. I don't even think William Hague, great speaker and debater though he is, yet has the experience (as Welsh Secretary) to make me think of him as a really big figure. And David Davis's government experience is quite limited. I don't say government experience is everything - having developed ideas must count, too, and influenced your party's thinking or image markedly - but not many front-bench Tories have done that in a serious way, either - the only example I can think of is IDS, who's a bigger figure since he left the leadership and introduced a new strand into Tory thinking.

Before anyone thinks I'm biased, I reckon there are only two big beasts in the Cabinet. One's wounded, grizzled and angry; the other's enjoying twirling his invisible moustache in the unexpected last year of his government career.

Dimoto said...

Anonomous, Redwood has been caricatured by New Labour as the essential swivel-eyed, rabid right-winger, who 'scares the horses'. As you know, Labour are highly proficient at media manipulation and implanting these types of images.
... or are you just a Labour troll up to mischief ? (roll eyes smiley)

It doesn't add up... said...

David Davies "gets it" in understanding the great threats to personal freedom and their undesirable consequences that come from Labour: I'd like to see him help protect our freedoms by directing the undoing of that damage at a reunited Home Office.

Anonymous said...

Redwood would be a tremendous asset to the Treasury or BIS teams, and I am very disappointed in Cameron's otherwise excellent leadership for neglecting such a talent. It is cruel to dismiss Redwood because of supposed aesthetical "issues", when actually he comes across as a charming, fearsomely intelligent and well-briefed MP.

IDS is another absolute must for the top team: his work on social justice could make him a formidable Home Secretary or DWP chief in the future. It is interesting to read Iain's comment that there might be a Department of Social Justice in the Cameron administration.

I also think David Davis needs to return as Home Secretary in the interim, as he has a common touch and a dollop of common sense that would make him a solid Cabinet minister in this regard. I would say, however, that last year's resignation from the Commons was a horrendous decision that backfired and did little to alter government policy or public perception. Cameron was entirely reasonable in being mightily disappointed and angry with him.

Anonymous said...

DD - Home Secretary?

neil craig said...

I'm tending towards the feeling that a really massive Tory win would allow the party the leeway to dispute with Cameron if he fills the cabinet with Bullingdon boys & media cuddly eco-nuts. It will depend to a large extent on whether Cameron himself is seen as an asset who won the election or merely the guy who happened to be there when a Labour wipe out was inevitable. It will also depend on whether he does the tough policies required to get the economy moving or stays PC/Green. There is no question that they could do the economy a great deal of good if they started building nukes the instant they got in (Sarah Palin's promise) but that it would take some courage.

Anonymous said...


where did I last see this lot of dripping wet europhile rubbish?

Ahh yes, in the worst 'Conservative' Government of all time, led by the worst leader since Chamberlain; leading us to the biggest defeat for 100 years.

Nice one Cameron

Anonymous said...

Iain you are wrong on Stephen Dorrell.

David Cameron must find a role for Stephen Dorrell - who was an effective Health Secretary for John Major.

As a former Health Secretary he knows his way around the endless administrative structures imposed on Health by Labour, he understands its management problems and has a clear idea on how best to organise and motivate the Health service to achieve better outcomes - more important than ever in future.

My evidence; seeing him grapple with an audience of health professionals and his performance during the BSE crisis. Always good value at conference too.

Stop slurring a descent and able chap

Anonymous said...

Is this about Jacqui Smith again?


The Grim Reaper said...

I think that Call Me Dave should go back further. Instead of bringing back politicians whose heyday was under Maggie Thatcher, he should do more to help other Tory politicians.

I was thinking of perhaps digging up the likes of Winston Churchill from his grave to run the Ministry of Defence. Or perhaps we'll bring back Enoch Powell and put him in the Home Office? The possibilities are endless.

The Conservative Party - providing real help now to all those dead people struggling through the recession. Brilliant.

Guy H said...

"... a newly created Department of Social Justice" - oh please, no! We've had quite enough departmental reorganisation laced with claptrap from the present lot. Some of were hoping Cameron in office would be a touch more serious.

nick said...

Anon, 12:34 "...led by the worst leader since Chamberlain..."
Was Major really worse than Heath or Eden? Yes, 1997 was a heavy defeat, but it was inevitable whoever the leader might have been, even (some might say especially) the sainted Margaret. Inheriting a party which was tearing itself apart, and which most objective observers thought had probably been in Government for too long, and managing to pull a win out of the bag in 1992 wasn't a bad achievement in retrospect.

HYUFD said...

If a loyal competent Tory like Fox, the son of a miner and state educated, is replaced by an Old Etonian like Arbuthnot then there will be a huge row. It will be advantage Labour and deservedly so!

HYUFD said...

It should also be pointed out that while Fox has been one of the few Tories actively backing our troops, Arbuthnot was caught knee deep in the expenses row!

Dual Citizen said...

Sorry Iain, No to David Davis. This is a man who (maybe for his own honorable reasons) walked out of the Shadow Cabinet. Cameron can't risk DD doing that again while in government.

As for other "big beasts", remember that Cameron already has two ex cabinet ministers lined up (Clarke & Hague). If he needs others I'd focus on the departments most in need of experienced ministers who understand the issues. Those for me are:

1) Defence - which points to Rifkind.

2) Work & Pensions, which points to Lilley, Redwood or maybe Frank Field!!

3) Home Office (I'm not sure Grayling's up to it), maybe Redwood or Clarke.

There's talk of bringing back Michael Howard. I'd be ok with that, maybe Lord Chancellor, back in the Lords where it belongs.

I'd move Dr. Liam Fox to Health, Theresa May to Leader of House, and drop Lansley and Duncan.