The PM is due to shake up his team early this week. Photo: Getty
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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 deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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The Taliban's succession crisis will not diminish its resilience

Haibatullah Akhunzada's appointment as leader of the Taliban may put stress on the movement, but is unlikely to dampen its insurgency. 

After 19 years under the guidance of the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Omar, the group has now faced two succession crises in under a year. But although Haibatullah Akhunzada’s appointment as leader of the Taliban will likely put stress on the movement, it shows few signals of diminishing its renewed insurgency.

The news pretty much ends speculation about former leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death in a US airstrike in Pakistan’s south-western Baluchistan province, which was criticised by Islamabad as a violation of its sovereignty.

The Taliban would have prepared extensively for this eventuality. The fast appointment, following days of intense council, appears to be a conspicuous act of decisiveness. It stands in contrast to the two-year delay the movement faced in announcing the death of the Mullah Omar. It will be not be lost on the Taliban that it was subterfuge around the death of Mullah Omar that caused the fracture within the movement which in turn led to the establishment of an ISIS presence in the country.

The appointment is a victory for the Taliban old guard. As former head of the Taliban's judiciary and Mullah Mansour’s deputy, in many ways, Haibatullah is a natural successor. Haibatullah, described by Afghanistan expert Sami Yousafzai as a “stone age Mullah,” demonstrates the Taliban’s inherent tendency to resort to tradition rather than innovation during times of internal crisis.

The decision taken by the Taliban to have an elder statesman of the group at the helm highlights the increasing marginalisation of the Haqqani network, a powerful subset within the Taliban that has been waging an offensive against the government and coalition forces in northwest Pakistan.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network who already has a bounty of 5 million dollars on his head, was touted in some Taliban circles as a potential successor, however the decision to overlook him is a conservative move from the Taliban. 

The Taliban’s leadership of the jihad against the Afghan government is hinged on their claims to religious legitimacy, something the group will hope to affirm through the Haibatullah’s jurisprudential credentials. This assertion of authority has particular significance given the rise of ISIS elements in the country. The last two Taliban chiefs have both declared themselves to be amir ul-momineen or ‘leader of the faithful,’ providing a challenge to the parallel claims of ISIS’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Any suggestions that Mansour’s death will lead to the unravelling of the Taliban are premature. The military targeting of prominent jihadi leaders within group structures has been seen in operations against the leadership of ISIS, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and other groups.

In recent research for the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics, we found that it is often less prominent jihadis that play an integral role in keeping the movement alive. Targeted killings do create a void, but this often comes at the expense of addressing the wider support base and ideological draw of militant outfits. This is particularly relevant with a relatively decentralised movement like the Taliban.

Such operations can spur activity. If the example of the Taliban’s previous leadership succession is to be heeded, we might expect renewed attacks across Afghanistan, beyond the group’s strongholds near the eastern border with Pakistan. The brief capture of Kunduz, Afghanistan's fifth-largest city, at the end of September 2015, was a show of strength to answer the numerous internal critics of Mullah Mansour’s new leadership of the movement.

In a news cycle dominated by reports of ISIS, and to a diminishing extent al-Qaeda, atrocities, it is important to comprehend the renewed brutality of the Afghan insurgency.  Data from the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics Global Extremism Monitor found a seventeen per cent rise in fatalities from March to April, marking the start of the Taliban’s spring fighting season. A suicide attack in central Kabul on the headquarters of an elite military unit that killed 64 people was the single most deadly act of terror around the world in the month of April, and the group’s bloodiest attack in the Afghan capital for years. Reports this morning of a suicide attack on a bus killing 10 staff from an appeal court west of Kabul, suggests that the violence shows no sign of diminishing under the new leadership.

All these developments come during a period of renewed impetus behind international peace talks. Last week representatives from Pakistan were joined by delegates from Afghanistan, the United States, and China in an attempt to restart the stalled negotiation process with the Taliban.

Haibatullah Akhunzada’s early leadership moves will be watched closely by these countries, as well as dissonant voices within the movement, to ascertain what the Taliban does next, in a period of unprecedented challenge for the infamously resilient movement. 

Milo Comerford is a South and Central Asia Analyst for the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics