Why Now Was The Wrong Time For Cameron To Reshuffle
There are already hundreds of news articles, op-eds, and blogs discussing the rights and wrongs – and, indeed, the rights and lefts – of David Cameron’s reshuffle. They’ll tell you what the reshuffle signifies for the coalition, the country, and the cod fisheries if you look hard enough.
I have my own views on promoting an MP who lied to Parliament and giving a job to another who effectively stole money from the public purse, but that’s not what I want to write about today.
Instead, I want to tell you why I think Cameron completely mistimed the reshuffle.
That might seem irrelevant but his lack of political skill in handling his biggest job reflects on his leadership skills, his party management, and his tactical nous. We already know that the PM is no strategist. But he is, usually at least, intuitive. He has a knack of saying the right things and doing the right things at the right time. And when he does that well, he looks like he’s very competent.
Tony Blair was, and is, brilliantly intuitive but also extremely intelligent, both intellectually and emotionally. Brown less intuitive but with a brain the size of a small moon. So when their intuition failed they had intellect to back up their prime ministering.
Cameron’s problem – one of them anyway – is a lack of that same intellect. He is, in fact, pretty stupid. So when his intuition fails, he looks like a bit of a tit, to be frank. He tends to look a bit of a tit far more often than he looks on top of a situation. The timing of this reshuffle is just one example of his tittishness.
If he’d carried out his reshuffle at the end of the last parliamentary session, his new ministers would have had the
summer to find their feet in their new briefs, returning to Parliament this week with some grasp of their departments and ready to make the most of their time. As well as them, those people who’d lost their jobs would have had time away from the Westminster pressure-cooker, out of the way of the media, to lick their wounds, spin their backward moves as decisions to focus on constituencies or families or election campaigns, and they would have returned this week ready to focus on the parliamentary battles that lie ahead.
Instead the people who’ve been promoted have spent their summers managing expectations by telling anyone who’d listen that they didn’t want to be in the cabinet and those who had jobs already were telling everyone how much they loved being Culture Secretary or whatever their job happened to be. And now they’re all here in Westminster, either changing their stories to include their life-long interest in whatever their new brief is or, even worse, spending their sudden free time hanging around tea rooms plotting, trouble-making, and leaking to the press. The devil makes work for idle hands, and there are a few idle hands now.
Another problem for a reshuffle at the beginning of September is that the Tories’ annual conference is a few weeks away and lots of organisations will have arranged for ministers to come and address meetings on their portfolio areas. Those organisations are unlikely to want the former minister for sewage systems addressing their fringe meeting. They’ll want the current one. It doesn’t sound like a big problem, but it’ll make for further battering of egos and, if the new ministers agree to carry out their predecessor’s engagements, they’re not going to be masters of their topics by then and are going to look less impressive than they could be on a panel. Not a good position to be put in.
All of this could have been avoided if Dave had simply thought a bit more about the timing of his long-awaited reshuffle. A little thought would have made for a stronger-looking change, better long-term party management, and less opportunity for enemies within the party (and he’s just gotten a few more) to congregate. At the very least, he could’ve done it on Friday and given himself and his backbenchers the weekend.
If he can’t get this right, you have to wonder how he’ll get running the country right…