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).
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.
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’.”
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.