Huffpost UK Politics uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Callum Jones Headshot

Reshuffling Personnel Is a Start, but Policy Will Be the Decider in 2015

Posted: Updated:

As Britain headed to work on a Tuesday morning like any other, Westminster was feeding on its diet of speculation even more than usual. The reshuffle laid bare David Cameron's aims for the rest of the parliament for all to see. His turn to the right of his party seemed emphatic enough to demote Ken Clarke and overlook a previous pledge to transform the cabinet table with more women. The result, however, will not have been drastic enough to appease his backbenchers.

Another key aim was to improve the way that policies are communicated by ministers. Former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley was demoted to Leader of the Commons and ex-Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman was removed from the cabinet all together for poor performances on Newsnight, Boulton & Co and Today. The new faces at the top of government- Grant Shapps, Chris Grayling, Maria Miller- are of a different mould. Shapps was sent on the breakfast rounds from the crack of dawn on Wednesday, and as I type mid-morning in a Westminster coffee shop, he's still at it a few tables away.

Tuesday's outright winner was almost certainly Jeremy Hunt. His walk from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in the morning was nothing short of a leap of faith. A swift axe from the government was not by any means out of the question, but Hunt's successful Olympics work won him a promotion. He later arrived at the Department of Health to fill the Lansley-shaped void. The position is hardly the most sought after in the Conservative Party - the new Health Secretary is now tasked with packaging the most controversial policy rock of the parliament into golden chunks for voters.

Meanwhile, the biggest loser of the day was probably Justine Greening, who was demoted for the despicable political offence of following her party line on the Heathrow third runway. She was subsequently shifted off from the Department of Transport to International Development - a clear step down for such a bright ministerial mind. Her strong opinions on airport expansion clearly formed a significant vested interest, but the PM knew this when he hired her last October. Why remove her now, unless a substantial policy change is on the cards?

Nick Clegg ensured the yellow cabinet chairs didn't even move an inch, as he glued the Liberal Democrat coalition cards firmly into place. Movement between big players was sidelined, as David Laws returned to government to take up a dual-department position with both ministerial and advisory responsibilities. The return of the respected Lib Dem was the Deputy PM's fundamental priority in the reshuffle, but the subsequent lack of frontbench amendments may cause problems in the future.

The general consistency of the junior coalition party's ministers was mirrored by the top flight of the Tory party. The Foreign Secretary maintained his position to continue his responsibility for UK's international affairs, the Home Secretary stayed put to implement her broad reforms to British society and the Education Secretary was spared to move forward his plans for schools. Most significantly though, the Chancellor stayed to oversee the government's economic policy. This reshuffle swapped around lower personnel, but the general policy sheet for the economy, society and global relations has remained.

In reality, the events of the past few days will send out little more than a ripple outside the Westminster village. For one of the key problems with modern British politics is that, at the end of the day, the vast majority couldn't care less. We live in a society where people are much more likely to watch contestants enter the Big Brother house than watch new members of the political elite walk up Downing Street.

Whilst the world shrinks due to technological advancements, more people than ever before are living in incredibly regional bubbles. The NIMBYist culture against the proposed Heathrow extension and high speed rail network prove that most voters couldn't care less about politics until it affects them in the most direct way.

Cameron's big challenge over the second half of the parliament dwarfs the predicament of faces around his cabinet table. He has to get the economy back on track, whilst creating a legacy that will make the coalition's many calamities worth the hassle. More woeful economic facts and figures are spewed out each day, but the potential political damage caused by going into the next general election without a rise in living standards is overlooked.

Mitt Romney's strongest presidential campaign moment yet was a moment in his speech at the Republican National Convention last week. He asked the American people to fundamentally question whether they were better or worse off today than the day President Obama took office. This black and white view might demonstrate a brutal ignorance to detail, but it is incredibly common - incumbent candidates are blighted by it on almost every electoral stage.

With somewhat inharmonious current relations between coalition members, this reshuffle gave Cameron a chance to look forward. He's now selected his key representatives for the next few years. They'll face their fair share of peril of the coming weeks and months, with aviation already exploding on the Downing Street doorstep. The clear post-reshuffle line from the government has been that the focus has shifted to the communication, not creation of policies - their practical success will be vital for a Tory victory in 2015.