So, now it’s war.
As the reshuffle unfolded, my timeline was full of fellow Lib Dems asking “Is Cameron actively trying to piss us off?” And frequently it did feel like that. But of course the truth is, Cameron wasn’t really bothered what we thought. That wasn’t what this reshuffle was about. Neither was it really about a strategy to win the next general election – a lurch to the right seems unlikely to hoover up enough votes from UKIP to compensate for the seats the Tories would have won if the boundary changes had gone through.
No, this reshuffle was all about Cameron making sure he was still leading the party at the next election. He can’t afford to think much further than that, so weak is his position currently. He had to appease his backbenchers. And it may have worked for now – although how his stomach must have churned when he heard Nadine saying how much she liked the reshuffle.
But it is a very short term strategy. Yes, promoting the Patersons, Graylings and Hunts of this world may have secured Cameron’s position for a while longer. But just how angry will those same backbenchers be when they still can’t get their favourite policies through. Because it wasn’t Cameron stopping them having their way before. It was the Lib Dems.
There’ll be no third runway at Heathrow. There’ll be no tearing up of the Greenbelt. Even with no Ministers in the MoD (odd move that, Nick) there’ll be no Trident. I doubt if Norman Lamb will allow Jeremy Hunt to introduce his favourite homeopathy treatments into the NHS. There’s going to be a lot of crossed arms, shaking of heads, and great big “no’s”. And however good a Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell may turn out to be, that won’t be much cop if the MPs standing in the way are in a different party. Cameron may have decided not to think about the Lib Dems when he reshuffled merrily away yesterday. But it was a foolish decision.
So while Cameron’s cabinet changes may allow him to empathise with his recalcitrant backbenchers for a while, soon the old frustrations will bubble up again. Because he hasn’t solved his real problem. He didn’t win the last general election. And sooner (if the Lib Dems can help it) or later they’ll punish him for it.
Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Liberal Democrat Conference.