Reshuffles: Top ten lessons

Written by 1. Get on Twitter on 7 October 2013 in Diary
The dust has yet to settle, but here are our ten pointers from today's reshuffles. By Sam Macrory and Anoosh Chakelian

Whether you’re an MP aspiring for higher office, a precarious minister cowering at the prospect of a sacking, or a confident frontbencher set on travelling ever frontwards, get on Twitter. A phone call from No 10 is no longer the confirmation you should be waiting for; a far more effective way to hear the bad/good news/rumours is to refresh your newsfeed feverishly throughout the day. David Cameron’s team are merrily live-tweeting the #Reshuffle from inside Downing Street, on the official @Number10gov Twitter account, whereas, according to Paul Waugh (see tweet below), there are still 241 MPs yet to join the site. Only a keyboard drenched in sweat by the end of the day means you’re ahead on the gossip. Oh, and your job.

2. Osborne the Octopus extends his reach

It's not who you know, it's what you do. Wait a minute – scrap that. After this reshuffle, it seems to be very much a case of who you know, especially of that person is George Osborne. David Cameron might agonise about creating a government which is not in his image (i.e northern, working class, zero Eton-ties), but the Chancellor seems less concerned. Greg Hands, part of Osborne's shadow Treasury team in opposition and his PPS in government, has been made deputy chief whip. With the 72 year old Sir George Young unlikely to hold on to the top job for the entirety of this Parliament, Hands could well move up a notch next year. Meanwhile, Matt Hancock, Osborne's former chief of staff, becomes a minister of state in two departments – BIS and DfE – at just 34 years old, Sajid Javid scaled two Treasury rungs and leapt from economics secretary to financial secretary, and Amber Rudd, another ex-Osborne PPS, has recently been seen going into Downing Street and is predicted for promotion. The ground has been laid nicely, should Osborne ever fancy a crack at the leadership...

3. This is Ed Miliband's party now

After his widely-praised speech at last year's party conference, Labour insiders suggested that Ed Miliband was in a position to pick, and in, any fight with his party that he wanted. He didn't. A year on, however, he seems to have decided that the time his right. Those that don't agree with his agenda, or at least struggle to sell it with conviction, are out. Liam Byrne, Stephen Twigg and Maria Eagle a fall. The first two, never ideological allies and somewhat muted in their performances, were expected to lose their jobs shadowing pensions and education respectively, while the latter recently found herself on the wrong of side of the tracks as Balls shifted Labour's position on HS2. Jim Murphy, meanwhile, stays in shadow cabinet but moves from defence to international development, a move which can be seen as sideways at best. Instead the 2010 intake, those with no memory of old Blarite/Brownite divides, step up. This is Ed's team (though some will argue it's Len McCluskey's). There's now no-one to blame if they fail to pull their collective weight.

4. I got Northern Soul, but I’m not a soldier

There’s been constant chatter that David Cameron’s reshuffle will thrust some greatness upon a few northerners, the government’s ministerial ranks being stuffed to the brim with southern softies. Although there was some derision at this rather contrived, and potentially patronising approach, most notably from bona fide northerner John Prescott, who tweeted: “So in this #reshuffle "flat caps" will be "knocking on the door of the Cabinet." Just like butlers #upstairsdowningstreet”. This has given rise to much media scrutiny of which winners and losers were born north of the Watford gap, and it appears Downing Street has not yet quite achieved its attempt at diversifying.

Cumbrian (and female. And half Nigerian.) Helen Grant has just been demoted from her junior justice position to the sports brief at DCMS. There have been many mutterings that she’s not great at government, one senior Tory MP telling me once her appointment to justice was “a disaster”, but it would be a bad message to send if she were sacked. The only new northerner shuffled into government is Yorkshireman Robert Goodwill (who? See above) to transport, but comprehensive-educated, Durham-born Mark Hoban was sacked from his post as employment minister, as was popular northerner Alistair Burt from the foreign office. Hoban’s been replaced by the Liverpudlian Esther McVey, but she was already at DWP – so have we broken even yet, chuck?

5. Doing your job well is no guarantee of anything

At the last reshuffle a handful of ministers lost their jobs for no particular reason. In fact, if you spoke to anyone who had met them, the general consensus was that the unlucky quartet were doing rather well. Nick Harvey left the MoD, Nick Gibb – who notably came in for heavy praise from education secretary Michael Gove during his conference speech – was bumped from the DfE, Charles Hendry lost his job at DECC, and Tim Loughton also joined Gibb in the DfE departure lounge. This time it's the turn of Alistair Burt, whose exemplary below-the-radar efforts at the FCO has counted for nothing, and Marks Prisk and Hoban, whose work as housing and employment ministers respectively were seen as perfectly competent. So what's the theme? Cynics would suggest that all are white middle-aged men. No-one could deny that all went around their work with a minimum of fuss. Politics is a rough old business.

6. The Liberal Democrat talent pool is running dry

In 2005, two new Liberal Democrat MPs arrived at Westminster. One challenged for the leadership within a year. Both went head to head again a year later. Nick Clegg won, but Chris Huhne established himself as a major political player. Fast forward to 2010, and the intake was not quite so star-studded. A mixture of solid, reliable, likeable and hard-working, the 2010 class of Lib Dems have not broken into the government ranks in the same way their Tory counterparts have managed. Of course, there are less to choose from, but nor are there any obvious rising stars. Duncan Hames continues to hover at PPS level, but that's really it. The appointment of Baroness Kramer – who lost her seat in 2010 – as a transport minister hints at a lack of talent in the Commons, while the party's reliance on solid, reliable local candidates does not suggest a sudden influx of A-list talent is set to arrive in 2015.

7. Meet minister Robert Goodwill – he's an MP, and an interesting appointment

The transport parliamentary under-secretary position has been given to... Robert Goodwill. Yes, precisely. Who? Even the newsroom here at Dods (home to all those fingers-on-the-pulse at PoliticsHome) had a momentary ‘huh?’ moment when this announcement came through. It turns out Robert Goodwill is MP for Scarborough and Whitby, and has been since 2005. He's been beavering away in the whips’ office, silently, as whips are wont to do, biding their time before they are eventually noticed in the shadows and catapulted into the public eye of a policy brief. Transport is an interesting one for Goodwill, because, as transport troll extraordinaire Zac Goldsmith has pointed out, he has long opposed a third runway at Heathrow.

8. The rivals

Does David Cameron have any genuine leadership rivals these days? One, Boris Johnson, is out of the Commons for now, while the sun is setting – or set – on the ambitions of right wing poster boys David Davis and Liam Fox, with the latter passed over for a government return. But have Cameron's fellow party leaders inadvertently created a pair of rivals? Jim Murphy, moved from shadowing defence to international development, is bright, personable and Blairite (if such a creature still exists). He's not been averse to being critical of his party's direction in the past – he has even more cause to do so now.

Jeremy Browne, meanwhile, emerges as the Lib Dem most aggrieved by the reshuffle. Told by Nick Clegg that he would be moved to "provide the opportunity for as many in our ranks" to experience government, Browne might have been a little surprised to see Norman Baker – already a minister – replace him.  Young, presentable on the media, and with government experience to boot, Browne could, if he wanted, form a power base from the backbenches. One to watch.

9. Ladies, move! Gentlemen, move!

Alongside that troop of northerners yet to appear, we were told this would be an opportunity for both David Cameron and Ed Miliband to promote more women – the PM because he’s pledged to get a third of government posts filled by female politicians by 2015 (and the number of women in cabinet fell last time), the Labour leader because, well, he’s got loads of good ones.

The percentage of women in the shadow cabinet has risen to over 40% now Ed’s finally confirmed his reshuffle. Rachel Reeves has gone to DWP from shadowing the chief secretary role, Liz Kendall will have a seat at cabinet, shadowing the care and older people brief, Gloria de Piero has been promoted to head women and equalities, and Emma Reynolds will attend cabinet as shadow housing minister. Karen Buck (alongside Wayne David) will be Ed Miliband's new PPS. However, it will surprise some that perpetually rising star Stella Creasy hasn't risen this time.

Helen Lewis of the New Statesman has told us she’s been watching the government's women:David ratio, noting that before this reshuffle, there were five women attending cabinet, and four men called David doing the same. Promoted women in government now include Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan, Jane Ellison (from the backbenches), Esther McVey, and Helen Grant stays in government, though slides from justice to sport. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper complains about the “only 4 women out of 22 in Cameron/ Clegg cabinet” after three and half years to turn it round.

10. Blairite, Brownite, or... both?

Hot off the press, here's the big Labour shadow cabinet moves:

Rachel Reeves has replaced Liam Byrne as shadow work and pensions secretary.

Gloria Di Piero takes on the shadow women and equalities brief.

Emma Reynolds will shadow housing – and sit in the shadow cabinet.

Tristram Hunt becomes shadow education secretary.

Spot a theme?

Ed Mlliband is determined to steal a march on David Cameron with his appointments, with a senior Labour source dismissing the government reshuffle as one that has "left failing ministers in place" – Sir George Young, Grant Shapps and Owen Paterson were picked out – and proves the Lib Dem "blind spot towards women."

The Labour shadow cabinet, on the other hand, is now made up of 18 women and 14 men, while 31% of that tally were first elected in 2010.

"Good campaigners, effective communicators, the best potential" is how the source described the appointments, but what about the direction in which the Labour Party is now heading?

Out of the shadow cabinet fall Liam Byrne, shifted to shadow higher education, and Stephen Twigg, now shadowing constitutional affairs. The source insisted that both "were very happy" with their new roles. And if you believe that...

With Jim Murphy moving from defence to international development, and Ivan Lewis leaving that brief for Northern Ireland, hacks on the hunt for a story could be forgiven for identifying a Blairite cull.

But they shouldn't rush in just yet. Caroline Flint remains at the energy portfolio, which since Ed Miliband's price-freeze pledge is now one of the most important policy responsibilities going, while Mary Creagh – who has proved herself to be a very impressive campaigner while shadowing Defra – moves to transport (in a swap with Maria Eagle) and will take on the responsibility of battling, with a hint of opposition, for HS2. Both were backers of David Miliband.

And in an eye catching appointment Charlie Falconer, a minister in the New Labour years, will take the lead on "transition and planning into government."  Presumably he might want to ask his old flatmate – one Tony Blair – about that. Douglas Alexander, meanwhile, retains his shadow foreign secretary job while heading up general election strategy.

The Labour source insisted that the days of "factionalism and labels" had gone. It's not always easy to take that without a coating of salt, and it's unlikely tomorrow's headlines will ignore a bit of Blairite/Brownite mischief.

We'll soon see how the demoted react, but for now they are still in jobs and, mostly, in the shadow cabinet. Give it a year, and then we'll see if those old labels really can be retired.

Tags: Reshuffles

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