Cameron shuffles to the right
During the first major reshuffle of his cabinet since his Coalition government came to power, David Cameron has moved to promote a ‘Conservo-centric’ balance within his government. By doing so, the Liberal Democrats’ influence has been diluted within the top leading departments.
Conservative MPs hailed what some called ‘an anti-Lib Dem reshuffle’ as Mr Cameron bolstered his own position with his rebellious backbenchers and sought to give the Government's policies a tougher edge.
Right-wingers such as the new Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, and Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, have replaced the more liberal leaning Kenneth Clarke and Caroline Spelman respectively.
Mr Clarke was demoted to Minister without Portfolio, acting as a ‘wise head’, but government sources denied he would take on an economic brief to dilute the power of the Chancellor, George Osborne. In an attempt to push Vince Cable into a more pro-business stance to boost growth, Michael Fallon, the deputy Tory chairman, was installed at the Business Department. Another ‘minder’, right-winger John Hayes, was made no 2 at Energy and Climate Change, headed by the Liberal Democrats' Ed Davey.
Despite the obvious ‘shuffle to the right’, as it’s been named, senior Lib Dems spoke out last saying that they would still continue to veto hard-line Conservative policies, stating that: ‘We are proud we are anchoring this Government in the centre ground and we will continue to do so. We are still governed by the Coalition Agreement. All decisions will still have to be joint decisions.’
The Prime Minister didn’t have it all his own way during the first major reshuffle of his cabinet since his government came to power in May 2010, as Iain Duncan Smith refused to step down from the head of the Department of Work and Pensions.
Andrew Lansley paid the price for failing to ‘sell’ his NHS reforms, with a demotion to Leader of the Commons. Jeremy Hunt was promoted to Health Secretary, a remarkable comeback after he almost lost his Culture post this spring over his close links with Rupert Murdoch's empire.
Among the Liberal Democrat changes, David Laws, who resigned as Chief Treasury Secretary in 2010 over his parliamentary expenses, returned as an Education minister with a roving brief including drawing up an alternative to the Trident nuclear missile system. Norman Lamb was promoted to no 2 at Health; Jeremy Browne moved to the Home Office and Jo Swinson was promoted to the Business Department.
The input of Chris Grayling as the Minister for Justice indicates a stronger and more aggressive approach to law and order, as his predecessor, Ken Clarke, was more for a ‘rehabilitation’ type of justice, trying to keep down prison numbers.
Mr Clarke's departure removes a key roadblock to replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, which was strongly resisted by the former Justice Secretary, but widely supported by senior Conservatives.
With the influence of the Liberal Democrats quite clearly eroded under this reshuffle, the question remains as to how much of an impact this will have on the Coalition Government.