Guest Articles

Night of the long knives for the male, pale and stale (and poorly polling)

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Ministerial reshuffles usually only excite the political class and have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on 99% of the public. This one feels a little different.

When the well-respected Foreign Secretary resigns, the bête-noir of the left is demoted, and one of the few senior politicians of any party who does a recognisable impression of a member of the human race also steps down after four decades in Government, then people tend to sit up and take notice. And so this reshuffle will cut through to the public consciousness, I think, more than any other in recent years.

The obvious and easy headline is the bonfire of the male, pale and stale. Whether it’s the demotion of Michael Gove, the departure of the William Hague or the dozens of examples at more junior levels, there are plenty who fit this stereotype. But the reality is that the massed ranks of Conservative junior Ministers are stuffed full of white, middle-aged men. So it’s almost inevitable that it any reshuffle would disproportionately hit them.

In almost all cases, the women being promoted are people of genuine talent. The only mystery is why people like Nicky Morgan, Liz Truss and Priti Patel didn’t get these jobs before today. Certainly, going into the 2015 election, the Conservative leadership is finally starting to look more representative of the country they seek to lead than they ever have before. And with eyes now firmly on the 2015 general election, the Prime Minister will seek to present this more representative team to the country as a younger, refreshed team for a second term.

The other measure of reshuffles is where they put a party on the left/right axis. This is a much more complicated picture. Broadly, there does seem to be a further shift to the right – we now have a Foreign Secretary in Philip Hammond who only a few months ago said he would vote for Britain to leave the EU and an Education Secretary who famously voted against gay marriage. Whilst promotions for people like Michael Fallon fit the same picture too and the departure from energy of Greg Barker finally seals the death of any attempt to be the ‘greenest Government ever’.

Yet at the same time gone is Owen Paterson, until now standard-bearer of climate-scepticism and Brexit in the Cabinet. It seems being right-wing alone is not enough if you are not judged to be presentationally strong and a safe pair of hands in policy terms.

One final observation. There has been much talk in recent weeks of which seat Boris Johnson will fight in 2015 with his options appearing to narrow. But with so many sacked Minister’s now declaring that they will also stand down from the Commons next year, suddenly a whole new realm of safe seats open up for BoJo. How handy for him.

This article was originally posted on the CRC Communications blog.

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