Reshuffle 2014: A new generation
Yesterday’s reshuffle was always expected to be more substantial than the minor rejigs in 2012 and 2013, but the scale of change took everyone in Westminster by surprise.
There were shock moves for Michael Gove and William Hague, neither of which was expected by the Westminster commentariat (a triumph for Number 10 in the era of 24 hour news and near-constant Twitter speculation). There was also one of the most far-ranging and ruthless culling’s of mid-ranking Ministers that Westminster has seen for a long time – no Department and no Minister, however well-respected, was safe.
The Labour Party’s reaction has been to try and present yesterday’s reshuffle as a ‘massacre of the moderates.’ At first glance they have some grounds for such an assertion, with prominent ‘One Nation’ Conservatives like Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve and Andrew Lansley all put out to pasture. However, any talk of a shift to the right is overstated. ‘Big beasts’ of the Tory right such as Owen Paterson were also dumped while Liam Fox, a darling of the right, was offered a mid-ranking Foreign Office job that Cameron (surely) knew he would refuse. Suggestions that those who have been promoted represent a rightward shift are also overstated: the likes of Anna Soubry and Nick Boles occupy very different parts of the Tory ideological spectrum to the likes of Priti Patel.
However, while it may not represent a clear shift to the ideological right, yesterday’s reshuffle does represent one very clear shift: generational. Yesterday was first and foremost a triumph for the 2010 intake. Those who received promotion were, almost without exception, 2010-intake MPs while those who were handed their marching orders on Monday evening were almost exclusively pre-2010 intake. Indeed the lack of representation in Government for the 2001 and 2005 intakes in particular is likely to fuel considerable resentment and all of Cameron’s ‘BBQ diplomacy’ over the last couple of years will not be enough to stop the grumbling from the backbenches. Cameron and Osborne have calculated that next year’s general election will be enough to keep the backbench troops disciplined for now.
With the scale and scope of the reshuffle taking Westminster by surprise and the media distracted by Gove’s shock move, it is also worth noting that little attention has been paid to perhaps the most significant move of the day: the nomination of Lord Hill as the UK’s next Commissioner in Brussels. If confirmed, then the former Leader of the House of Lords is likely to stay in situ for far longer than any of the ministers who are dominating the current news cycle, and will play a hugely influential role in re-negotiating the UK’s relationship with the EU.
In short, yesterday’s reshuffle was not about shifting the ideological position of the party. It was entirely about getting a new, fresh faced batch of Ministers in place to fight what we can be sure will be the longest general election campaign in history.