Kleenex all round

Cameron's reshuffle will calm and bait in equal measure

David Cameron has delivered to his party one large fizzing Alka-Seltzer to banish the troubles of the past month. He said he was going to be positive and his shadow cabinet changes are predominantly that. One of the few benefits of opposition is the chance to try people out. Cameron has wisely picked not just for the person, but who they will be up against.

On 2 July, an emotional Francis Maude went round staff one by one and said goodbye to each person. His farewell email read: "We have much to be proud of; I have hugely enjoyed my time as chairman. The best part has been working with some of the most committed people it has ever been my privilege to work with. You are the best." The next day, the staff association sent an email to employees, "He [Maude] has been a great hands-on chairman who has worked to improve CCHQ both internally and as a fighting force." It went on to ask for donations for a gift. An aide says tenderly: "It is quite rare for management to be loved by their staff, and Central Office loved him. He would write emails and letters of thanks to employees. He was accessible. People were close to tears." Kleenex all round.

Outside Westminster, Tory activists are rarely in two minds about Maude. He is either the sinister plotter who was disloyal to Hague, or he is the dashing, misunderstood moderniser who has brought the (emotionally sensitive) party together. A Midlands constituency chairman from the former camp was content: "The removal of Francis had to happen. The sole purpose of the chairman is to cheer up the troops on the ground and he was hopeless at that. He seemed to relish telling the hard-working faithful their views were somehow morally defective." No Kleenex there.

New chairman, the ethereal Caroline Spelman, might not bring on the tears but she does have a sense of calm about her. Even her office has a lavender-scented tranquillity and she has a diplomatic team behind her. Chief of staff, Simon Cawte, is particularly popular. That the other two members of Spelman's former local government team have been rewarded with shadow cabinet jobs (Eric Pickles and Michael Gove) shows what a success they were. You will not catch any of them cracking a rude joke at a Conservative Future event, being mean to the people of Liverpool, or flashing a nipple.

Having few enemies in the Tory party is an advantage and it is rare to hear a negative word spoken of Spelman. There has been talk of her not being aggressive enough for the new job, but a party strategist disagrees: "Many of the local government issues she has had to deal with are not particularly sexy - housing, protecting the green belt, council tax. But having a background in them will help her in her new role, particularly with the grass roots." One well-oiled MP took a different view of his new chairman: "Julie Andrews, she's just too perfect. She probably goes home and sacrifices chickens."

Bedtime stories

Michael Gove, the new shadow secretary for schools, who turns 40 next month, looks 25 and resembles the eldest, good-natured brother in an Enid Blyton novel. Like Spelman, he is well thought of. Gushed one party official: "Michael has a treacly, Aberdonian, bedtime story voice, he's charming, helpfully state educated and he's incredibly nice." Party workers are waiting for promising showdowns between Gove and Ed Balls. "For all his intelligence, Balls is not a confident speaker," notes one researcher. "Michael is going to rile him. They are both talented, but I can't wait to see Balls getting irritable. CCHQ enjoyed Gove's "Cooper baiting" when, as shadow housing minister, he would effortlessly provoke Yvette Cooper (Balls's wife). Gove's team enjoying playing back a tape of a Today programme interview she gave in March in which she lost her cool.

As for other appointments, Owen Paterson's new role as shadow Northern Ireland secretary is thought to be a move by Cameron to appease a certain faction. "They've thrown Owen a bone, because it buys out Cornerstone and shuts up the far right," said one insider.

Most interesting for some MPs will be the relationship between shadow secretary for security, Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, and shadow home secretary, David Davis. "Like David, Neville-Jones is abrasive and tough and not a natural team player. The sparks will fly. The two of them have a lot of regard for themselves," sniggers a shadow minister. At least her previous jobs were "Bond" enough for the SAS-trained Davis - aides point out that Davis will be "heartened by her passing resemblance to Judi Dench". Role-play heaven!

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