The PM is due to shake up his team early this week. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Reshuffle speculation: a round-up

A shake-up of government figures is expected early this week. Here are the latest rumours.

As the Westminster world anticipates a reshuffle early this week, here is a round-up of the latest speculation about who’s going where, and who’s going home (well, back to the backbench).

 

Ladies first

The Sun on Sunday reported this weekend that David Cameron is hoping for a “Tory first lady” to represent the party going into the 2015 general election. And this reshuffle is being seen as the PM’s opportunity to promote a number of women to top positions, having been criticised during previous reshuffles for failing to come closer to fulfilling his commitment to a third of his government being female by the end of his first term.

Not everyone is thrilled that the PM is scouring his backbenches for female talent; the Mail’s Amanda Platell is derisive of this move, calling it “a cynically calculated attempt to make him more appealing to female voters”, and saying it’s too much, too late.

There are many talented female Conservative MPs who have been almost unanimously tipped by the papers for promotion. These include education minister Liz Truss, a free-thinker who I’m told has often felt stifled by the Department for Education’s penchant for rather exacting, controlling special advisers; Treasury minister Nicky Morgan; work and pensions minister Esther McVey, a former TV presenter who the Today programme reported this morning is expected by some to become “minister for television”, and one of the most prominent backbenchers of the new Tory radical rightwing vanguard, Priti Patel, is expected to be given a government post.

When Maria Miller resigned as culture secretary earlier this year during an expenses row, and was replaced by Sajid Javid, I was told by a senior Tory MP that both Truss and McVey were rather put out by the PM’s decision to promote an already-senior man to a position once filled by a woman. They have been waiting their turn for a seat at the cabinet table.

The Independent’s Jane Merrick gives a whole host of further names of female Tory backbenchers who the PM would do well to put into government roles: Nicola Blackwood, Angie Bray, Fiona Bruce, Therese Coffey, Tracey Crouch, Caroline Dinenage, Jackie Doyle-Price, Rebecca Harris, Margot James, Pauline Latham, Jessica Lee, Charlotte Leslie, Mary Macleod, Anne Main, Penny Mordaunt, Sarah Newton and Caroline Nokes.

She writes: “If we are including whips – and, as members of the Government, they should be counted – and Lib Dems, there are 129 jobs in the coalition. At the moment, 27 government members are women. To make it one-third, this needs to increase to 42.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, about whom there have been whispers over the past weeks, is now expected to be safe in her job.

 

Out with the pale, male and stale

Many news outlets are spelling the end for the old guard of senior politicians who have been hanging around the cabinet for a long time. Here at the New Statesman, George Eaton wrote on Friday that this reshuffle would see the end of the One Nation Tories in the cabinet, reporting that veteran cabinet member and current minister without portfolio Ken Clarke will be culled, along with fellow Tory “wet” George Young, who replaced Andrew Mitchell as chief whip in 2012. Greg Hands, currently deputy chief whip, is expected to replace Young.

The Times includes leader of the house and former health secretary Andrew Lansley in its death knell for the “pale, male and stale” of this government, reporting today that last night “the Conservatives ruled out choosing an MP as the next European commissioner.” Lansley was hoping to take this role, but apparently the Tories are unwilling to risk another by-election.

Additionally, the website PoliticsHome is reporting the Sun’s story that up to 20 ministers are for the chop, including Welsh Secretary David Jones, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and Science Minister David Willetts.

 

Never outfoxed

But not all the male, Tory big names will be departing. The former defence secretary – who was forced to leave the position in 2011 due to inadvisably carting his friend around as a lobbyist – Liam Fox is due for a “surprise comeback”. Always considered a more dynamic cabinet secretary than his successor Philip Hammond, Fox certainly hasn’t kept quiet on the backbenches since his departure, and it looks like Cameron’s been listening. Fox is tipped to return for a “key role” in the run-up to the election, as the Mail reports, though the Times suggests it won’t be as chief whip, as many have been speculating.

In other news of comebacks from those who have previously had to resign, Mark Harper – the immigration minister whose cleaner was an illegal immigrant ­– is expected to return, although probably not to another Home Office role. Andrew Mitchell, the former chief whip embroiled in the Plebgate affair, was down for a comeback, but it’s unlikely considering he is still in libel proceedings.

 

Still in work and pensions

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary about whose imminent reshuffle there have been multiple reports in recent days, is now rumoured to be staying in his job after all.

The speculation was fired up by a supposedly high-level conversation overheard by a commuter on a train: "The call kept dropping out because of the tunnels but she rang him straight back, talking about Ian and Esther. She didn't seem to care. She said 'Ian wants to go and has agreed to go, he's been fed up for a while waiting for decisions from the Treasury'."

 

EU who?

There have been a number of candidates hankering after the role of European Commissioner for a while, but many of them will be disappointed as it emerges that the Tory party has apparently ruled out choosing a current MP for a role, to avoid triggering a by-election. The hopeful MPs are said to include Andrew Mitchell, Andrew Lansley, Michael Fallon, Philip Hammond, Justine Greening and Lib Dem Michael Moore. However, according to the Times, it is now expected the job is more likely to go to Lord Howard of Lympne, the former Conservative leader, Lord Hill of Oareford, the Tory leader in the upper chamber, and Baroness Wheatcroft, the former newspaper editor.

 

You Swinson, you lose some

A story emerged last week that Lib Dem business and women and equalities minister Jo Swinson, tipped often to take the first female Lib Dem cabinet position, would be promoted in this reshuffle. However, our George Eaton has reported that while Nick Clegg considered this move, potentially to replace Ed Davey as Energy Secretary, her promotion will be delayed until after the Scottish referendum, when she is set to replace Alistair Carmichael as Scotland Secretary.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Tories play Game of Thrones while the White Walkers from Brussels advance

The whole premise of the show is a pretty good metaphor for the current state of British politics.

If you’re a fan of asking “who’s that, then?” and “is that the one who killed the other one’s brother?”, I bring great news. Game of Thrones is back for a seventh series. Its vast assortment of characters was hard enough to keep track of before half of them got makeovers. But now the new Queen Cersei has reacted to the arrival of the long winter by investing heavily in the kind of leather ball gowns sold by goth shops in Camden, and Euron Greyjoy, once a fairly bland sailor, has come back as a Halloween costume version of Pacey from Dawson’s Creek, all eyeliner and epaulettes.

The show’s reliance on British character actors is the only thing keeping me vaguely on top of the cast list: what’s Diana Rigg up to these days in Highgarden? And what about that guy who was in Downton Abbey that time, who now has the scaly arms? (Luckily, the next thing I watched after the Game of Thrones series premiere was the first two episodes of the revived Twin Peaks, which put my confusion into perspective. There, Agent Cooper spent most of his time talking to a pulsating bladder attached to one of those fake trees you get from Ikea when your landlord won’t let you have real plants.)

The day-to-day business of Game of Thrones has always been power – answering the question of who will sit on the Iron Throne, forged by Aegon the Conqueror from the swords of his defeated enemies. But its backdrop is a far bigger threat: the arrival of a winter that will last many years, and the invasion of an army of the undead.

That might seem like an unkind way to think about Michel Barnier and his fellow Brexit negotiators – inexorably marching towards us, briefing papers in hand, while Liam Fox frantically rings a bell at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel – but nonetheless, the whole premise of Game of Thrones is a pretty good metaphor for the current state of British politics.

The current internal Conservative struggle for power might be vicious but it is at least familiar to its contestants; they know which weapons to deploy, which alliances are vital, who owes them a favour. Meanwhile, the true challenge facing every one of them is too frightening to contemplate.

In 2013, this magazine celebrated the early success of the show with a cover depicting one of our terrifying painted mash-ups: “The Tory Game of Thrones.” Our casting has been strangely vindicated. George Osborne was our Jaime Lannister – once the kind of uncomplicated bastard who would push a child out of a window but now largely the purveyor of waspish remarks about other, worse characters. Our Cersei was Theresa May, who spent the early seasons of The Cameron Era in a highly visible but underwritten role. Now, she has just seized power, only to discover herself beset by enemies on all sides. (Plus, Jeremy Corbyn as the High Sparrow would quite like her to walk penitently through the streets while onlookers cry “shame!”)

Michael Gove was our Tyrion Lannister, the kind of man who would shoot his own father while the guy was on the loo (or run a rival’s leadership campaign only to detonate it at the last minute). Jeremy Hunt was Jon Snow, slain by the brotherhood of the Night Shift at A&E, only in this case still waiting for resurrection.

The comparison falls down a bit at Boris Johnson as Daenerys Targaryen, as the former London mayor has not, to my knowledge, ever married a horse lord or hired an army of eunuchs, but it feels like the kind of thing he might do.

We didn’t have David Davis on there – hated by the old king, David Camareon, he was at the time banished to the back benches. Let’s retrospectively appoint him Euron Greyjoy, making a suspiciously seductive offer to Queen Cersei. (Philip Hammond is Gendry, in that most of the country can’t remember who he is but feel he might turn out to be important later.)

That lengthy list shows how Conservative infighting suffers from the same problem that the Game of Thrones screenwriters wrestle with: there are so many characters, and moving the pieces round the board takes up so much time and energy, that we’re in danger of forgetting why it matters who wins. In the books, there is more space to expound on the politics. George R R Martin once said that he came away from The Lord of The Rings asking: “What was Aragorn’s tax policy?” (The author added: “And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?”)

Martin’s fantasy vision also feels relevant to the Tories because its power struggles aren’t about an “endless series of dark lords and their evil minions who are all very ugly and wear black clothes”. Instead, everyone is flawed. In Westeros, as in the Conservative Party, it can be difficult to decide who you want to triumph. Sure, Daenerys might seem enlightened, but she watched her brother have molten gold poured down his throat; plucky Arya Stark might tip over from adorable assassin into full-blown psychopath. Similarly, it’s hard to get worked up about the accusation that Philip Hammond said that driving a train was so easy “even a woman” could do it, when David Davis marked his last leadership campaign by posing alongside women in tight T-shirts reading “It’s DD for me”.

The only big difference from the show is that in real life I have sympathy for Barnier and the White Walkers of Brussels. Still, maybe it will turn out that the undead of Game of Thrones are tired of the Seven Kingdoms throwing their weight around and are only marching south to demand money before negotiating a trade deal? That’s the kind of plot twist we’re all waiting for.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder