Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Massacre of the Men in Grey Suits: how not to reshuffle your Cabinet!

With less than a year until the next General Election, it was inevitable that the Prime Minister would reshuffle his Cabinet.  Like Harold Macmillan in 1962, David Cameron has gone for a substantial revision of his top team giving it a more euro-sceptic and media-savvy focus.  Gone are many of those moderating middle-aged men in grey suits who have dominated both Cabinet and junior government posts and in come younger ministers, including a significant number of women.  Some of those dropped from the Cabinet, such as Sir George Young and Ken Clarke, are in their seventies and it is not surprising that they have stood aside from their often arduous ministerial posts.  Others, including Owen Paterson—whose lamentable performance during the floods earlier this year makes one wonder why he was still in post anyway—David Willetts, Alan Duncan and Damian Green are two decades younger but have decided that life on the backbenches after 2015 or life beyond the hallowed halls of Westminster beckoned. 
William Hague
Several senior ministers are staying in post: George Osborne, and Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt and Iain Duncan Smith.  William Hague has decided to leave parliamentary politics in 2015 to spend more time with his writing—apparently a history of Foreign Secretaries is forthcoming--and, of course, his family and has left the Foreign Office but will act as de facto deputy Prime Minister and play a central role in the campaign for a second Conservative government.  His is an understandable, if unexpected, decision giving him the flexibility and time to do other things.  With Philip Hammond now in the Foreign Office, after his stint at Transport and Defence, political experience has replaced political experience but with a more euro-sceptic edge. The move of Michael Gove from education to become Chief Whip and his ‘enhanced role in campaigning and doing broadcast media interviews’ plays to his strengths and also removed him from his increasingly toxic position at education.  Nicky Morgan, his replacement, however, has barely two years’ experience in government.
So David Cameron has gone for youth over experience and has boosted the number of women who sit in Cabinet: I suppose it’s ‘Cameron’s cuties’, an echo of ‘Blair’s babes’.  The problem with this is that while individuals such as Ken Clarke are recognised by the electorate, people like Liz Truss, Jeremy Wright and Nicky Morgan are—whatever their abilities—generally not.  Yes, they have a year for the public to get to know them and their promotions are, at least in part, because they are good communicators. But there is a problem.  An increasing proportion of those who vote are over 55 so you have to ask how will the reshuffle go down with the ‘grey vote’?    Well, if you’re 60 and have just been moved aside to make way for younger people in the workplace, not very well at all.  It reinforces the view that experience really doesn’t count for much and that all that matters is youth and appearance—substance does not matter.  So is the reshuffle an unashamed electoral ploy to appeal to the younger voter?  Perhaps yes, but if that is the case then it’s doomed to failure.  Making your Cabinet appear more cuddly may not be the way to go.  Whether we like it or not—and this is something that David Cameron has rightly rejected—is that many people over 70 still remain suspicious of women in top jobs and in some cases have an intense antipathy to it.  It’s not something I agree with at all but it remains an electoral reality and an electoral risk, though one to my mind absolutely necessary to take. 

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