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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Trident is dangerous – and not for the reasons you think

Fixating on Trident is like replacing the guest bathroom while your own toilet flush doesn't work. 

Backing Trident is supposed to make a politician look hard, realistic and committed to Britain’s long history of military defence.That’s why the Tories delighted in holding a debate on renewing the nuclear weapons system in June 2016.

But it was the Tory Prime Minister who floundered this weekend, after it emerged that three weeks before that debate, an unarmed Trident missile misfired - and veered off towards the United States instead of Africa. Downing Street confirmed May knew about the error before the parliamentary debate. 

Trident critics have mobilised. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, called the revelation “serious”. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a longstanding opponent of nuclear weapons, said the error was “pretty catastrophic”. 

The idea of a rogue nuclear missile heading for the White House may have fuelled the disarmament movement. But even if you enjoy the game of nuclear poker, fixating on Trident is dangerous. Because while MPs rehearse the same old Cold War arguments, the rest of the world has moved on. 

Every hour debating Trident is an hour not spent debating cyber warfare. As Peter Pomerantsev prophetically wrote in April 2015, Russian military theory has in recent years assumed that it would not be possible to match the West militarily, but wars can be won in the “psychosphere”, through misinformation.

Since the Russian cyber attacks during the US election, few can doubt this strategy is paying off - and that our defence systems have a long way to catch up. As shadow Defence secretary, Emily Thornberry described this as “the crucial test” of the 21st century. The government has pledged £1.9bn in cyber security defences over the next five years, but will that be enough? Nerds in a back room are not as thrilling as nuclear submarines, but how they are deployed matters too.

Secondly, there is the cost. Even if you back the idea of a nuclear deterrent, renewing Trident is a bit like replacing the guest bathroom when the regular loo is hardly flushing. A 2015 Centreforum paper described it as “gold-plated” - if your idea of gold-plated is the ability to blow up “a minimum of eight cities”. There is a gory but necessary debate to be had about alternatives which could free up more money to be spent on conventional forces. 

Finally, a nuclear deterrent is only credible if you intend to use it. For this reason, the British government needs to focus on protecting the infrastructure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, now under threat from a US President who declared it “obsolete”. Eastern Europe has been nervous about the bear on its borders for some time - the number of Poles joining the country’s 120 paramilitary organisations has tripled in two years.  

Simply attacking Trident on safety grounds will only get you so far - after all, the argument behind renewing Trident is that the status quo will not do. Furthermore, for all the furore over a misfired Trident missile, it’s hard to imagine that should the hour come, the biggest worry for the crew of a nuclear submarine will be the small chance of a missile going in the wrong direction. That would be missing the rather higher chance of global nuclear apocalypse.

Anti-Trident MPs will make the most of May's current embarrassment. But if they can build bridges with the more hawkish members of the opposition, and criticise the government's defence policy on its own terms, they will find plenty more ammunition. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.