British Prime Minister David Cameron did some clearing up yesterday in his first cabinet reshuffle – or shuffle as it should be called. The big beasts of his government, Chancellor of the Exchequer Osborne, Foreign Secretary Haig and Home Secretary May, like ’em or hate ’em, all stayed in position even if a wiser leader would have noticed that all three have already racked up a fine load of cock-ups but there were a few embarrassments that he just had to clear away.
He couldn’t have a Transport Secretary who is against darkening the skies over London with an extra runway at Heathrow Airport so she had to go to a “safe” job as Overseas Development Secretary, the seat next to the door for potential trouble-makers.
Baroness Warsi was sacked as co-chairman of the Conservative Party and given a job where she can sit at the cabinet table, also near the door, but not say anything. She had to disappear from centre stage after a series of embarrassing admissions over her business dealings even though she was cleared of allegations concerning her expenses. She might have been a forceful and useful Moslem voice in the cabinet but she was just too accident-prone even for this government.
Old-timer Ken Clark has been kept on in the cabinet as a wise old man but told to quit his job as a leftish Justice Secretary with, for the Conservative side of the wobbly coalition, a dangerously pro-European attitude when the Conservatives are out to free Britain from the liberalising influence of the European Convention On Human Rights. Ken, the great survivor, is only there to placate the Lib Dems and those brave Leftish Conservatives who are feeling less and less welcome in their own party.
The most important shuffling though was doing something about the beleaguered Health Secretary Andrew Lansley who single-handedly turned the muddle of his National Health Service reforming ideas into a political and public relations nightmare. Too central to government policy to be just ditched, he has gone to a lowlier “graveyard” job looking after the day to day business of the House of Commons.
It was a nifty piece of juggling to replace Lansley with the other main problem in the cabinet, the dodgy Culture Secretary who narrowly escaped being pulled down by his cosy relationship with the media ogre that is Rupert Murdoch. His cheerfully free-for-all attitude once displayed over press ownership is now to be unleashed on the NHS but at least, Cameron decided, he won’t have to deal with the publication of the media ethics enquiry, the Leveson Report.
There was never any point in looking to the cabinet reshuffle for hope during this dismal administration so no one is likely to be disappointed or surprised by the inevitable consequences of a little bit of half-hearted, face-saving tidying up.