THE BLOG

Cameron's Cull: Pointless Window Dressing or a Cunning Distraction?

15/07/2014 11:21 BST | Updated 13/09/2014 10:59 BST

David Cameron yesterday had the enviable task of culling ministers, apparently to make way for fresh faces. Right-wing media predictably concentrated on the outrage of loyal long-standing Tories being driven out, rather than examining the toxicity that drove Cameron to take dramatic action at this stage of a parliament.

The Telegraph called the reshuffle a 'cull of middle-aged white men', which is quite peculiar as the departed are closer to pension age than middle-age - and Ken Clarke is 74.

Debates can be had about who was violently culled and who chose to go but the pride of MPs isn't as interesting to me as the desperation of Cameron's window dressing. The spectre of Ukip is an obvious motive for some of the reshuffle choices, but I suspect there are other factors driving Cameron.

The Commons summer recess ends in September, after which we will be hurtling towards the General Election. Therefore, given the clunky pace of British politics, the ministers appointed are unlikely to achieve much before parliament is dissolved in March.

However, the above is only true if we feel that the value of ministers and of a reshuffle is to get work done that benefits the public. It would be lovely to believe this but the cold reality is that ministers serve their parties and reshuffles serve struggling prime ministers.

Therefore, Cameron would hope that his shiny new ministers will achieve a great deal. He hopes they will assist his window display as he - behind in the polls and leading a strained coalition - staggers towards the election like a tourist stung by a jellyfish hobbling on sand.

Cameron is perhaps hoping that he can create as much interest bringing in some new faces as Selfridges does each Christmas with its inventive and sparkly window displays. I believe, however, Cameron's latest piece of window dressing is a measure of how out-of-touch he is rather than his inventiveness. Politics is not a shop window and neither the public or MPs are dummies to be manipulated so easily.

On International Women's Day, in March, Cameron was mocked on social media for the near-absence of females around him. The reshuffle might add some female and slightly younger faces to Cameron's pre-election window display but it's too little and far too late.

If the reshuffle is window dressing, we have to consider what of significance has happened recently within the Tory Party to warrant such an effort to show a different face to the public. The key things are that evidence has emerged that information alluding to alleged 'elite' child abusers has gone missing and related stories simmering online for years are starting to bubble up in the traditional media.

This was followed by political has-beens rushing between TV camera using terms like 'witch-hunt' and making light of missing reports they claim not to have seen. But there have been rather more MPs and campaigners attempting to pull the Establishment's carpet up.

That is not to suggest that any ministers culled this week are linked to abuse or a cover-up, merely that a reshuffle of this apparent significance is one of the few things a prime minister might think could distract voters from frequent allegations of sexual abuse and his party's perceived reluctance to lift a carpet that seems to have rot seeping through it. Whatever the source of the rot, the smell is not going away and will get worse until the British public is sure the truth has been told.

Therefore, putting a handful of new faces in cabinet - whether female or not - seems unlikely to distract attention from what appears to many observers and campaigners to be a cover-up involving many powerful people over decades.

Some observers have gone as far as to suggest that Operation Yewtree itself is a distraction from investigations where the spotlight has fallen on powerful figures, such as Operation Fernbridge and Cayacos. However, my perception is that watching celebrities being unmasked as devious child abusers has made the public more suspicious of all powerful figures and keen for celebrity masks and political structures abusers may hide behind to be torn away rapidly.

Until it appears that senior politicians are truly behind that cause, their parties will be treated with great suspicion - particularly when appearing to do little more than rearrange the deckchairs on an unwieldy ship heading for an iceberg.