Cameron reaches for Ctrl-Alt-Del

Local elections followed by the Queen's speech offer a handy pause in which Cameron might want to tr

The handy thing about reshuffle rumours is that if you miss one, another one will be along soon enough. The Mail today reports brewing speculation that David Cameron will rearrange his ministerial team soon in an attempt to retake the political initiative. This time it does seem quite plausible. The Prime Minister has to do something to regain the political initiative and the local elections followed by next week's Queen's speech offer a good Ctrl-Alt-Del moment.

As gambit’s go, a reshuffle isn’t terribly imaginative but it is a reliable way to dominate headlines for a day or two and remind everyone who is in charge. Besides, this reshuffle is well overdue. When Cameron became PM he made it a point of principle not to keep moving ministers around between departments (or to reorganise the names and competences of departments themselves). He saw the hyperactive reshuffling that went on under Tony Blair as one of the reasons the New Labour government ended up confusing dynamic headlines and eye-catching initiatives for action and substantial reform.

He was right. If a minister knows he only has a year in his office, he’s more likely to use it as a platform to score some cheap hits, make some noise and angle for promotion. Plus, moving people around all the time empowers civil servants. With their longer institutional memory and intimate knowledge of where past policy bodies are buried, the mandarins can more easily steer disoriented politician new kids who might know precious little about their portfolios.

But there are problems with not re-shuffling too. First, it keeps rubbish ministers in place. Second, it creates no vacancies to reward ambitious juniors. And in politics, thwarted ambition quickly turns to mischief. Frustration is especially high in the Tory party because Lib Dems took a share of government jobs after the election. There is also a peculiar level of rage at the fact that, when vacancies have opened up in the past, Cameron has promoted young women. This is seen by many back benchers as crude image management and positive discrimination – an affront to the oppressed mass of forty-something males, the swollen NCO ranks of the Tory party. It is hard to overstate, for example, how livid some Conservative MPs were over the appointment of Chloe Smith to the Treasury team in the mini-reshuffle after Liam Fox’s resignation last year. It was seen as an act of arrogant provocation by the Cameroons.

This time around, the PM will recognise some of those people who have moaned in the past that they are – to use the horrific phrase of choice – “too pale and too male” to get ahead in Cameron’s party. That means, for example, likely promotions for Chris Grayling and Grant Shapps, currently employment and housing ministers respectively. Both are second tier ministers who have taken charge of their jobs without (yet) causing any grief to Number 10 and who, crucially, can handle themselves well in front of a TV or radio microphone. Downing Street has been frustrated by the lack of reliable cabinet ministers to put up for the Today programme and Question Time.

(Grayling, in particular, will be itching to get out of the Department for Work and Pensions, not least because the longer he sticks around, the likelier his stock is to fall. His reputation is built largely on effective delivery of the Work Programme  - the flagship “payment by results” reform that rewards private and voluntary sector companies for placing benefit claimants in jobs. Appalling labour market conditions are hollowing out the project and Grayling won’t want to be in his current office when a major provider goes bust or comes begging for a bail out.) Mark Harper, cabinet office minister, and Greg Clark, planning minister, are also being tipped for promotion.

And who will be out? The opportunity is there to dispose of Andrew Lansley whose handling of NHS reforms was deemed catastrophic from beginning to end by all but his very closest friends. As it happens, the Prime Minister has been among his cheeriest cheerleaders (Lansley was his boss at the Conservative Research Department once) and has been impressively, oddly loyal. But the years ahead will produce no shortage of bad news and scandal in a cash-starved health service. Downing Street will need someone running the Department who is an effective communicator capable of reassuring people. That isn’t Lansley.

No-one at the Justice Department expects Ken Clarke to still be the boss by the end of the year. His liberal-minded penal reforms have fallen foul of tabloid scorn and his poisoned relations with Theresa May at the Home Office have brought a level of dysfunction to their corner of Whitehall reminiscent of New Labour rivalries. Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman (still resented for bungling forest privatisation) is said to be facing the axe too, along with George Young, leader of the Commons. That would be former Etonian, the 6th Baronet Sir George Samuel Knatchbull Young. Hmm, I can’t think why Cameron would want to move him out of the cabinet in the current climate.

One major catch with the whole re-shuffle plan: what to do with Jeremy Hunt? He is up to his eyeballs in Murdoch mayhem; Labour are demanding his head. The PM has stood by him and insisted that his fate shouldn't be decided until he has had a chance to testify at the Leveson inquiry, so sacking him or even moving him would look like a capitulation. But if he is going down, a whole new set of reshuffle calculations would have to be made. That might be one reason why Cameron will wait a few more weeks, just to see which way the wind is blowing and whether Hunt looks likely to be blown over.

Is Cameron considering a reshuffle?

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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