Ken Clarke sits in the stands at The Kia Oval on September 4, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Cameron's reshuffle will cull the last of the One Nation Tories

The departure of Ken Clarke and George Young from the cabinet will mark the end of a long political tradition. 

Reshuffle fever has taken hold at Westminster, with both David Cameron and Nick Clegg expected to make changes to their top teams early next week. Most of the commentary to date has focused on the likely elevation of female Tory ministers (Esther McVey, Liz Truss, Nicky Morgan and Andrea Leadsom) as Cameron moves to increase the number of full-time female cabinet members from the dismal level of three (Theresa May, Justine Greeening and Theresa Villiers. Yes, there are more women called Theresa than there are women not called Theresa). 

But there's something else worth noting too: the reshuffle will mark the extinction of that venerable political species: the One Nation Conservative. The last remaining cabinet representatives of that tradition - Ken Clarke and George Young - are both certain to depart next week. Clarke, nicknamed "the sixth Lib Dem cabinet minister", has already been demoted from Justice Secretary to minister without portfolio and Cameron has long been under pressure from the right to remove the 73-year-old europhile entirely. His recent contrarian outbursts bear all the marks of a man who is demob happy. 

Young, who reluctantly took on the post of chief whip following Andrew Mitchell's resignation in 2012, is expected to make way for his deputy Greg Hands, the MP for Chelsea and Fulham and a close ally of George Osborne (one of the most reliable indicators of promotion). By removing him and Clarke, Cameron will sever the last remaining links with the Major government, now fondly recalled by some as an era of gentler conservatism.  

The problem for what remains of the Tory "wets" is not so much Clarke and Young's imminent departure, but the failure of younger moderates to take their place. Not one of the patrons or vice-presidents of the Tory Reform Group (the keepers of the One Nation flame) will sit in the cabinet after the reshuffle. Instead, the Conservatives' team will increasingly be dominated by the turbo-Thatcherites of the new right (Sajid Javid and Liz Truss being the first to rise). The man who once cast himself as a "One Nation Conservative" is now about to adminster the last rites to that honourable movement. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.