Friday, June 29, 2007

Cameron's Reshuffle Must Avoid the Whiff of Panic

I have another column in this morning's Daily Telegraph looking at a Cameron reshuffle of his front bench team. This time it was for the news pages and I speculate on who might leave the Shadow Cabinet as well as join it. One line which was subbed out was that Chris Grayling was still in the running for the Party Chairmanship. An article on the same page by Political Editor George Jones reckons that two Old Etonians, Hugo Swire and Oliver Letwin, are set for the chop. I discounted Swire in my article as he is one of Cameron's best friends and all Party leaders are entitled to at least one friendly face round the Cabinet table. He has made one mistake on museum charges but it would be ruthless indeed to sack him merely for that. It would also be seen as odd to get rid of his Head of Policy just as many of the policy groups are about to report. The trouble with Oliver Letwin is that he is more of an intellectual than a politician. Anyway, here's my article...

Having spent the early part of the week making the Lib Dems chase their tails, Gordon Brown's clunking fist was aimed at the Tories yesterday. Last week David Cameron was in two minds about a wide-ranging reshuffle. His instinct is not to do so but there will be many voices whispering in his ear that he needs to freshen his team with new talent.

There are two schools of thought advising Cameron. Some believe he should adopt the principle of 'marking the man' and make his appointments having considered who they will be shadowing. Others think 'playing the ball' is more important and the best people should be appointed regardless of their opponents. Cameron is determined to pick his team based on who he wants rather than who he thinks should be sacked. William Hague and George Osborne will relish their new opponents. Jacqui Smith as Home Secretary will provide a different kind of challenge for David Davis. Having seen off four Home Secretaries, he is likely to kill her with kindness. None of these three big beasts need stand by their phones. The same is sadly not true for Francis Maude, the party chairman. Cameron sources are anxious to point out that Maude has done a great job but are now moving into election mode and want a different type of 'front man', or in this case woman. The hot money is now on Caroline Spelman, with Andrew Mitchell an outside bet. Maude will be devastated not to see his work through and is unlikely to take the news well. A source at party HQ told me yesterday: "If they do shift him, it shows they have lost their nerve." There may be trouble ahead.

Chris Grayling may return to being shadow leader of the House. As Cameron's licensed attack dog, he would like nothing better than to rip apart the gaffe-prone Harriet Harman every week. Alternatively, he would be an ideal shadow for the new Health Secretary Alan Johnson. Liam Fox is not popular with the Cameroons but sacking him would be more trouble than it's worth. The last thing Cameron needs is another battle with the Right. Oliver Heald and Theresa May are said to be on Death Row. Neither has done anything wrong but rarely hit the headlines. Heald is a safe pair of hands but expect the impressive Dominic Grieve to replace him. Peter Ainsworth has made little impact at environment and could be replaced by Alan Duncan. David Willetts looks sure to depart from education. In the new split department, Michael Gove would be ideal to shadow Ed Balls, while everyone will wait to see if Cameron is brave enough to promote Boris Johnson to the shadow Cabinet to take on the new skills and universities portfolio. This has two
disadvantages. Boris's promotion would overshadow everything else and mean yet
another Old Etonian in the shadow Cabinet. One of the others would surely have
to make way.

Cameron would love to promote more women but has few to choose from. Julie Kirkbride ought to be a shoo-in and Maria Miller, from the new intake is expected to get a job. Jeremy Hunt, Ed Vaizey, Nick Herbert, Grant Shapps and Shailesh Vara are others from 2005 who have impressed Cameron. In the timing and extent of this reshuffle, it is vital that Cameron avoids the whiff of panic. The Tories will have a bumpy ride over the next few weeks as Brown buffets them with initiatives. Normal politics won't resume until autumn but by then Cameron's new team needs to have bedded down.