Reshuffle fever has taken hold at Westminster, with both David Cameron and Nick Clegg expected to make changes to their top teams early next week. Most of the commentary to date has focused on the likely elevation of female Tory ministers (Esther McVey, Liz Truss, Nicky Morgan and Andrea Leadsom) as Cameron moves to increase the number of full-time female cabinet members from the dismal level of three (Theresa May, Justine Greeening and Theresa Villiers. Yes, there are more women called Theresa than there are women not called Theresa).
But there’s something else worth noting too: the reshuffle will mark the extinction of that venerable political species: the One Nation Conservative. The last remaining cabinet representatives of that tradition – Ken Clarke and George Young – are both certain to depart next week. Clarke, nicknamed “the sixth Lib Dem cabinet minister”, has already been demoted from Justice Secretary to minister without portfolio and Cameron has long been under pressure from the right to remove the 73-year-old europhile entirely. His recent contrarian outbursts bear all the marks of a man who is demob happy.
Young, who reluctantly took on the post of chief whip following Andrew Mitchell’s resignation in 2012, is expected to make way for his deputy Greg Hands, the MP for Chelsea and Fulham and a close ally of George Osborne (one of the most reliable indicators of promotion). By removing him and Clarke, Cameron will sever the last remaining links with the Major government, now fondly recalled by some as an era of gentler conservatism.
The problem for what remains of the Tory “wets” is not so much Clarke and Young’s imminent departure, but the failure of younger moderates to take their place. Not one of the patrons or vice-presidents of the Tory Reform Group (the keepers of the One Nation flame) will sit in the cabinet after the reshuffle. Instead, the Conservatives’ team will increasingly be dominated by the turbo-Thatcherites of the new right (Sajid Javid and Liz Truss being the first to rise). The man who once cast himself as a “One Nation Conservative” is now about to adminster the last rites to that honourable movement.