As Boris dissembles his way towards recognised status as an Olympian God, among MPs there is more reshuffle talk in the air.
There seems to me very little point in having a reshuffle. Some limited-scale firing would be good, but I very much doubt any ordinary person in the electorate would view a reshuffle with more than vague, passing interest. The Westminster media bubble will naturally analyse the snakes and ladders – as all good Camerlotologists try to do. But the issue for most people, I suspect, is the Prime Minister himself.
Mr Cameron has shown some lamentable judgement and very little principled leadership since May 2010. I suspect the single biggest reasons for the slowly widening lead for Labour in the opinion polls are (1) a non-partisan dislike of the shady types with which he seems to surround himself; and (2) the near-collapse of LibDem support in the country. Problem 1 is well known and authenticated already, but Problem 2 was laid out in all its horror last week. According to figures released by the Electoral Commission, Nick Clegg’s party membership dropped by a
quarter during 2011, from 65,038 to 48,934. The same report shows that the Liberal Democrats saw their income drop from over £9.5 million in 2010 to just over £6 million in 2011.
Clearly, the LibDems have to choose what to do about this: austerity or stimulation? It has to be the latter, and the only weapon available to them at the moment is acting the Tough Guy whenever the Conservatives suggest something sensible. This means that both weapons and opportunities are limited, but if there is to be a reshuffle, then the Clegg Hardman factor will always get in the way: the Coalition is based on MPs in the House, not votes still to be cast outside in the real world: the LibDem ‘leader’ still has the power to screw things up.
The PM could appoint someone like John Redwood from the Right as Chancellor (he won’t) but even then that person would come up against LibDems at business and the Treasury. If he fired Osborne (he won’t) and gave Vince Cable the Chancellorship, the 1922 would tear Cameron to pieces.
Thus in reality, he has little room to make substantive changes. Hence my suggestion of A Little Local Firing Squad rather than mass executions.
For me, the only win-win would be to drop Theresa May and replace her with David Davis. If nothing else, Davis understands the civil liberties balance – and it’s obvious that nobody in Camerlot does. I think two bold steps would be to fire Jeremy Hunt (he brings only controversy and dislike to the table) and ask for Lord Green’s resignation. If nothing else, these acts might give Mr Cameron a chance to relaunch his ‘clean’ credentials. It won’t work, but it’s the sort of thing that antennae-free Dave might try. But do I really think he will? No, I don’t.
What he’ll do is move the cards around and add a sop here and there to the 1922 mob. If he does any more than that for the Right, then it will be a sign that his power-base is crumbling. So he won’t. A lot of politics is tediously self-fulfilling.
Finally, one flier – we really do need someone at Defence who can get the respect of the armed forces and act as a bulwark against pointless cuts that only show us to be weak internationally. Colonel Bob Stewart is an obvious choice. And being Non-Executive Chairman of Premier Gold, one suspects he could offer some interesting insights around the Cabinet table during the coming tribulations.