Having spent the early part of the week making the LibDems chase their tails, Gordon Brown’s clunking fist was yesterday aimed squarely at the Tories.
Last week David Cameron was in two minds about carrying out a wide ranging reshuffle. His instinct is not to do so, but there will be many voices whispering in his ear that he needs to freshen up his team with new talent, rather than shuffle the existing deckchairs.
There are two schools of thought advising Cameron. Some believe he should adopt the principle of ‘marking the man’ and make his appointments having considered who they will be shadowing. Others think ‘playing the ball’ is more important and that the best people should be appointed regardless of their opponents. Cameron is determined to pick his team based on who he wants rather than who he thinks should be sacked
William Hague and George Osborne will also relish their new opponents. Brown’s appointment of Jacqui Smith as Home Secretary will provide a different kind of challenge for David Davis. Having seen off four Home Secretaries he is likely to kill her with kindness. None of these three big beasts need to stand by their phones.
The same is sadly not true for Francis Maude, the Party Chairman. Cameron sources are anxious to point out that Maude has done a great job, but they are now moving into election mode and want a different type of ‘front man’, or in this case woman. Chris Grayling had been tipped to take over but the hot money is now on Caroline Spelman, although Andrew Mitchell is said to be an outside bet. Maude will be devastated not to be able to see his work through and is unlikely to take the news well. A source at CCHQ told me yesterday: “If they do shift him, then it shows they have lost their nerve.” There may be trouble ahead.
Chris Grayling may now return to being Shadow Leader of the House. He is Cameron’s licensed attack dog and he would like nothing better than to rip apart the gaffe-prone Harriet Harman every week at the Despatch Box. Alternatively he would be an ideal shadow for the new Health Secretary Alan Johnson.
Liam Fox is not popular with the Cameroons but to sack him would be more trouble than it’s worth. The last thing Cameron needs is another battle with the right.
Oliver Heald and Theresa May are said to be on Death Row. Neither have done anything wrong, but they rarely hit the headlines. Heald is well-liked and is a safe pair of hands, but with the new Justice role added to constitutional affairs expect him to be replaced by the impressive Dominic Grieve. Peter Ainsworth has made little impact at Environment, despite it being a key policy area and could be replaced by Alan Duncan.
David Willetts looks sure to depart from Education. In the new split department Michael Gove would be an ideal choice to shadow Ed Balls, while the whole country will wait with baited breath to see if David Cameron is brave enough to promote Boris Johnson to the Shadow Cabinet to take on the new Skills & Universities portfolio. There are two disadvantages to doing so. Boris’s promotion would overshadow everything else and it would mean yet another Old Etonian in the Shadow Cabinet. One of the others would surely have to make way. Social mobility can only go so far.
Cameron would love to promote more women but has few to choose from. Julie Kirkbride ought to be a shoo-in and Maria Miller, from the new intake is expected to get a job.
Jeremy Hunt, Ed Vaizey, Nick Herbert, Grant Shapps and Shailesh Vara are others from the 2005 intake who have shone and impressed Cameron and his advisers.
In both the timing and extent of this reshuffle it is vital that David Cameron avoids the whiff of panic. The Tories will have a bumpy ride over the next few weeks as Brown buffets them with initiative after initiative. Normal politics won’t resume until the autumn, but by then Cameron’s new team needs to have bedded down.