Cameron’s turn to shuffle the cards
The British government had its first re-shuffling since the Coalition took power in 2010 and it could very well be its last before the next election. So it is interesting to see what David Cameron the prime minister feels has gone wrong over the last couple of years and what needed changing. Obviously all is not right within the government, infighting between Liberal Democrats and Conservatives has divided the coalition while hardcore Tories have criticised David Cameron for losing the Parties values. The conservatives also trail the Labour party in the current polls and needed to freshen up the parties’ image.
So what appointments were made and what do they show about the Governments change in direction. First up is the Health Secretary, where Andrew Lansley lost his job after heavy criticism from the public over NHS reforms. In truth he wasn’t moved out for the policies implemented, but rather the handling of the reforms, as messages about what was happening were confusing and vague and his presence in front of the camera was sorely lacking, hurting the public image of the government. In his place comes in the previous culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt. This appointment backs up the previous statement that the government are looking to change the image of the NHS reforms, as Mr Hunt is well versed in both changing people’s minds and remaining very likeable at the same time. This is despite his links with the Murdoch family, an incident he has done well to shake off and move away from.
Jeremy Hunt will be expected to re-package the NHS reforms.
Next up is the removal of Justine Greening as Transport Secretary and her replacement Patrick McLoughlin. This is a clear shift in the policies involving a third runway at Heathrow, with the previous appointment in line with the Tories old stance against expanding Heathrow (more disruption for those living around the airport). In contrast, the new Transport secretary favours a shift in aviation policy as a third runway could possibly boost growth for the country and bring in new investment into London. This change in policy is confusing for the public, as is David Cameron’s continued denial of a u-turn on a third runway whilst clearly manoeuvring out obstacles in his way.
Justine Greening’s objections to a third runway result in her losing her job as Transport Secretary.
Another key change was the removal of Ken Clarke as Justice Secretary, who was pro-European and leans to the left in nature (showing a move towards the right wing in this reshuffle). Criticised by Tory backbenchers for giving in too easily to the Liberal Democrats wishes, the new Justice Secretary is a clear change in direction. Chris Grayling is less easy to sway on policies and is keen to stand up against European human rights laws that have long conflicted with British law and angered everyday Britons, though it remains to be seen how exactly he will achieve this.
The loss of Ken Clarke shows a move away from the EU and the Liberal Democrats.
These were the three big moves by the government, but smaller changes also show a new direction by David Cameron. Along with the Transport ministry, pro-growth liberals were moved into the environment and local government ministries to help promote new infrastructure projects that could help get the economy moving. Though one area where this wasn’t achieved was in the movement of Duncan Smith from the work and pensions secretary. He refused an offer to become leader of the Commons and will continue to fight against current Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne on cuts to the Benefits system, as Mr Osborne looks to make cuts of £10 billion by 2016.
Duncan smith’s refusal to leave is one obstacle David Cameron couldn’t avoid.
Along with individual changes there were broader changes in the government. The reshuffle showed the ever increasing cracks that are appearing between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. David Cameron has tactically moved out allies of the Lib Dem’s (for example Ken Clarke) and has brought in more right-winged Tories to help boost the parties’ image rather than the coalitions (with two pro-reform Tories moved in alongside Vince Cable to help ensure he keeps on track with Conservative party aims). Nick Clegg disagreed with appointments like Jeremy Hunt to Health Secretary, but gave into a lot of Tory demands so that he could get David Laws into the government, even resulting in the sacking of Nick Harvey from the defence department, who was considered to be doing a good job and came as a complete surprise. The Conservatives also seem to be focusing on growth rather than the environment with plans for new roads and a third runway at Heathrow, which clearly conflicts directly with the Liberal Democrats aims as a green party. Watch this space.
Nick Harvey (above) is sacrificed to help get David Laws into Government.
Furthermore, the reshuffle also shows a decline in the women and ethnic minorities in the cabinet. David Cameron had promised that at least a third of his cabinet would be female by 2015; now less than 20% of the cabinet is female with the number of women in the cabinet actually declining slightly. Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman and Conservative Chairman Baroness Warsi all left their posts in the reshuffle (with only Baroness Warsi moved to a lesser role and the other two fired completely), while Theresa Villiers promotion to Secretary of State for Northern Island coincides with her move out of the Transport department as she is known to be against a third runway at Heathrow. Men outnumber women in the cabinet 5 to 1, in stark contrast to countries such as Switzerland and France where women are represented far more evenly. Ethnic Minorities are even less represented with Baroness Warsi’s demotion to a minister (who can attend but not vote at the cabinet) a backwards step in the modernisation of the government as she was the only non-white member. It has to be said that at junior level more women and ethnic minorities are being brought into the government, but at the top level there seems a glass ceiling that neither group can break through right now. Other social issues with the reshuffle include the inclusion of Mr Grayling and Mr Paterson into the cabinet (both openly against gay marriage) and the number of southern ministers increased while the number of northern ministers was kept the same (despite the midlands being regarded as northern).
The Cabinet remains on overwhelmingly male and white.
Overall the reshuffle shows a movement in David Cameron aims regarding the economy (infrastructure growth), the environment (sidelined) and the repackaging of current reforms (NHS). It also enhances the current problems associated with the coalition government, namely that it is too white, too male and too southern.