The Rumour Mill starts


David Cameron must now be reflecting on his options for a reshuffle, probably in September.

Ed Miliband, after an initial rocky period, just after the leadership elections, has consolidated Labours lead in the opinion polls at 9-10%. The Coalition having peered over the abyss had been  trying to breathe new life into  the government in the wake of a  poorly received Budget , which managed to alienate most stakeholders ,while resulting in a number of U-turns which made the Coalition look weak and accident- prone. George Osborne’s  reputation has suffered  but he  will probably stay put.

The  Coalition re-launch has suffered a severe set -back. Tim Montgomerie, the influential Tory blogger,  reminds us (Daily Mail/ R4) that the decision to redraw constituency boundaries was part of the Coalition’s agreement to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600. As the price for agreeing to this, the Lib Dems demanded a referendum on Clegg’s pet project of changing the electoral system from first-past-the-post to the so-called Alternative Vote (AV), which the public rejected. Montgomerie points out  that it is  Clegg who has broken the ‘rules’ of the Coalition Agreement. For it was the referendum on electoral reform — not a shake-up of the Lords — which was linked to the boundary changes in the Coalition Agreement. On Lords reform, it bound the Government only to set up a committee to suggest changes, which it did.What’s more, says Montgomerie,  Clegg said earlier this year that Lords and boundary reform were not connected. He was asked four times if there was a link and each time he said ‘no’. Is this important? Yes, very. On two counts. Tories from  the grassroots upwards feel that it is Clegg who has done the betraying and their anger is visceral. Secondly, from a practical point of view, the review of constituency boundaries is more important, and a failure to address this issue will make their task even harder at the next election.

There are rumours flying that  the education secretary Michael Gove will be moved,  in a re-shuffle -possibly to the Home Office- although that is unlikely to help his career over the longer term. Reputations are seldom made and often   lost in that most dysfunctional of departments of state. (so ,one has to ask, why would he  want to move there?) Elizabeth Truss, a bright new Tory rising star, and former think tanker (Reform)  is being touted  as a possible replacement to Gove.  State educated and an Oxford graduate, her profile fits and she has made big efforts to be noticed as a significant contributor to education debates (main strengths curriculum and exams). Recently Truss called for maths to made compulsory, post 16( we don’t have enough high quality maths teachers- to make this work, by the way).She also   launched the Free Enterprise Group of MPs — a pro-free market faction which wants deregulation and lower taxes.  But Truss has no Ministerial experience,so  it would be a high risk gambit, despite her obvious talent and Goveian zeal. Truss certainly knows her education policy and impressed while at Reform. She  has a flinty edge, is  intense and adversarial in her style, and her managerial skills are untested and so unknown.  (mind you the same could have been said of Gove before he became Secretary of State).  The curriculum and qualifications changes,  though, it could be said,  are  to her  familiar, well trodden  territory.  And the DFE has now almost  been knocked into shape (notwithstanding occasional damaging leaks) . My guess is that she might come in as a junior education Minister. Gove will probably be offered a move-but may want to stay due to unfinished business.  Few other Ministers stand out in this government, though the same might be said of the shadow spokesmen.

Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary, after various flip flops on Free schools which made him look opportunistic and a tad confused, (he tends to think out loud which gets him into trouble) showed a deft touch in backing military style schools, a policy championed by ResPublica (and to some extent the Centre for Policy Studies) which was close to Cameron, certainly on matters related to the Big Society.  Cameron’s problems with his own backbenchers are simmering as they want him to make a principled stand on something, though Cameron loyalists fume that the imperatives of coalition government tie his hands. Possibly true, but critics suggest that that Cameron was hard to fathom before the election in terms of his core beliefs and values. Defining Camerons political narrative has always been something of a challenge.  The issue of boundary changes affecting all MPs will not go away-and if this is not resolved it will probably, as things stand, seal the fate of the Tories and Liberal Democrats in the next election (ie they will  be pretty pushed to stay in office-its estimated that the Tories for example need a 10% lead in the polls to secure a sound majority).

At some point Tories realise that they will have to create distance, or clear blue water, between themselves and the Liberal Democrats in preparation for an election.

David Laws a talented politician, caught out by an error of judgement, might well re-join Ministerial ranks as part of any future reshuffle. Liberal Democrat ranks are, as it happens, not overburdened with potential ministers.

These are fascinating times and the Opposition, as things stand can simply observe from the  sidelines, as the Coalition suffers internecine strife ,and consolidate its lead in the polls. So much political capital and goodwill has been used up on Lords reform that one wonders whether the Coalition has actually lost touch with what  really matters to the electorate  and on what they will be judged at the next election-their stewardship of the economy.

Hot Tip-Baroness Warsi will be moved and there will be some pretty fundamental re jigging  at the top of the Tory party.


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