Ken Clarke arrives in Downing Street earlier today. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Ken Clarke resigns as Cameron's reshuffle begins

One Nation veteran steps down from the government before he is pushed.

Update 21:36pm

The resuffle is continuing, with Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, Attorney General Dominic Grieve, Leader of the House of Commons Andrew Lansley all unofficially confirmed to have left the cabinet. Meanwhile, rumours are swirling round Westminster of a shock departure, with William Hague thought to be the most likely candidate. 

Of note is that the two biggest Conservative supporters of the European Convention on Human Rights, Grieve and Ken Clarke, have both left, paving the way for a possible Conservative manifesto pledge to withdraw from the treaty. 

Update 19:38pm

Universities minister David Willetts, who attended cabinet, has announced his resignation, along with International Development minister Alan Duncan and "Big Society" minister Nick Hurd.

David Cameron's final cabinet reshuffle of this parliament has begun. The PM is currently meeting those Conservative ministers leaving the government in his Commons office in order to spare them the walk of shame up Downing Street. By contrast, those who are being elevated to the cabinet, will be paraded in full view of the TV cameras tomorrow. 

The first to depart are Ken Clarke, who was serving as minister without portfolio (having been demoted from Justice Secretary in 2012), and David Jones, the Welsh Secretary. Of note is that Clarke's resignation means this will be the first Tory-led government since 1972 not to feature him on the frontbench. And, as I wrote last week, his departure, to be followed by that of Chief Whip George Young, means the cabinet will be left without a One Nation flag-bearer

In response to his sacking, Jones told ITV News: "It's not been a bad run - I've had four years as a minister, two years as Secretary of State." He added that Cameron was "very kind" and made it clear that the reshuffle was about "freshening up the team". Jones is best known for warning, at the time of the equal marriage bill, that same sex partners could not provide "a warm and safe environment for the upbringing of children". He and Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, who is also expected to be sacked, were the only Conservative cabinet ministers to vote against the legislation. 

Reshuffle

Out

Ken Clarke (Minister without Portfolio)

Dominic Grieve (Attorney General) 

David Jones (Secretary of State for Wales)

Andrew Lansley (Leader of the House of Commons) 

Owen Paterson (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 

David Willetts (Universities Minister)

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Qusai Al Shidi/Flickr
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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war