By this time next week Gordon Brown will have restructured Whitehall and formed his first Cabinet. David Cameron will then rejig his own team once he knows who his opponents are.
Brown’s reshuffle is likely to be radical, with almost half the existing Blair cabinet expected to retire gracefully, or in the cases of Lord Falconer, Tessa Jowell and Patricia Hewitt, kicked out of Number Ten screaming.
David Cameron hates reshuffles. He thought Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard held them too often and for the wrong reasons. Cameron takes the view that moving people every year creates disharmony, instability and bad policy. His priority in responding to Brown’s team will be to put round pegs in round holes.
David Cameron’s instinct is not to hold a night of the long knives and radically alter the look of his team, but only to make changes which are forced by Brown’s appointments. Cameron knows, though, that some radical surprises from Brown may force him to be more radical than he is inclined to be.
William Hague, David Davis and George Osborne will all stay put. In Hague’s and Davis’s case, any attempt to move them could have dire consequences. Hague loves his current job and has no desire to take on the Shadow Chancellorship or the Party Chairmanship. Davis has been the Shadow Cabinet’s most effective media performer at Home Affairs and would not take kindly to being moved.
The only top job where there could be a move is the Party Chairmanship. After only two years, Francis Maude is already the longest serving Party Chairman since Lord Thorneycroft. He has acted as a good lightning rod for Cameron in the party and his wide-ranging internal party reforms are coming to fruition. Whether he is moved largely depends on whether Cameron wants a Party Chairman who will look after the Party organisation, or a rottweiler, who will spend most of his time attacking the Labour Party. There is much speculation that Chris Grayling is being groomed to take on the role. Eyebrows were raised at Monday’s parliamentary party meeting when it was Grayling, not Maude, who led a session on polling.
If indeed he is dispatched, Francis Maude would be justified in feeling aggrieved. A lot of what he has done at Conservative HQ is below the radar and only starting to emerge after some serious long term planning.
Last month there was much speculation that Liam Fox was destined for the chop. He was felt by people around Cameron to have underperformed in his defence portfolio and he was thought not to have got over losing the leadership contest to a younger man. People contrasted his performance and loyalty to David Cameron with that of his right wing rival David Davis, and he didn’t come out of the comparison well. But the reaction from the party’s grassroots to an article in the Sunday Telegraph, predicting his demise, together with an upswing in his attitude, seems to have saved the day.
Another unresolved area is what to do about the new Ministry of Justice. Many think David Davis should continue to shadow both Home Affairs and the new Ministry, but it is important to reflect the structure of government and I would expect David Cameron to make an overdue promotion and ask Shadow Attorney General Dominic Grieve to take on the role. Grieve is a consistently good performer, works well with David Davis and is liked and respected by virtually everyone.
The Great Clunking Fist is expected to beef up the Department of Trade & Industry, giving it the digital switchover from the DCMS and much of the Department for Education’s employment brief. This should keep Ed Balls busy but it may not be enough to satisfy Alan Duncan’s cravings for a top job. Duncan is becoming one of the Party’s star performers on TV and he rightly feels he should be made better use of. My own view is that he should be Shadow Environment Secretary, a job which demands a good media profile.
There is naturally much speculation about the future of David Willetts. It would indeed be cruel to sack him for doing his leader’s bidding, but the hot rumour of the week is that he will be moved rather than sacked, and be replaced by the increasingly impressive Michael Gove. This would make sense if Gordon Brown keeps Alan Johnson at education. David Willetts performs best when he has an opponent who does not have attack dog tendencies. Johnson most certainly does.
There are many in the Conservative Party who believe that if the Party is serious about preparing for government David Cameron should bring in a few greybeards with some experience rather than promote a lot of new faces. I’m told that they will be disappointed. Cameron believes that the only way to fight Brown’s cabinet of new faces is to freshen up his own team with some young, energetic members of the Class of 2005. Michael Gove is one, Ed Vaizey may be another and Maria Miller could be the third.
Whoever David Cameron promotes, it is his intention to avoid any further reshuffles before the election unless events dictate otherwise. This will be his team for government.