After a night of firing, we should start to see a round of hiring in David Cameron’s government from around 8.30 this morning. Only one post has been filled – Philip Hammond moving to the Foreign Office – and yet some observers are already trying to pin down the new centre of gravity in the Tory party.
Labour seems to have given its MPs a line to take that the is a lurch to the right and the end of moderate Tory governing. Without wishing to begrudge the Opposition a decent, disciplined line on a day when it’s very difficult to attract attention away from the other party doing the shuffling, it is far too early to make this sort of judgement, and there is insufficient evidence to do so.
You cannot call a reshuffle in which arch moderniser and lover of greenery Greg Barker departed a lurch to the left. But you also cannot brand it a lurch to the right when eurosceptics are upset that Owen Paterson has been sacked. Barker appears to have had more choice in the matter: he discussed his future at length with the Prime Minister at Chequers on Sunday and will remain an adviser on green issues until the election. Perhaps he did conclude that his time was better spent doing other things than encouraging the Conservatives to hug huskies again, but unlike Paterson, he appears to have reached that conclusion on his own, rather than during a heated exchange in the PM’s Commons office. Paterson and Barker are hardly, as Eric Pickles might put it , brothers from another mother when it comes to their politics. They are white middle-aged men, though, and if all predictions about today’s appointments are anything to go by, the most obvious gravity shift in the Tory party is towards younger women.
And while it is true that expected promotions for Liz Truss and Priti Patel show the rise of the free market right wingers from the intellectually robust 2010 intake, others such as Anna Soubry who are expected to move up would not easily identity with the right of the party. Soubry is better known for her pro-immigration attacks on Nigel Farage (and within the party for her colourful language while relaxing in the Smoking Room with Simon Burns) than anything else.
But as we don’t know the full details of how David Cameron plans to fill the void left by Owen Paterson, save by giving us a more Eurosceptic foreign secretary in Philip Hammond and sacking the main opponent of Britain opting out of the ECHR in Dominic Grieve, it’s a bit early to start calling the reshuffle. Nervous ministers and backbenchers waiting hopefully by their phone for a call from a withheld number that denotes the Downing Street switchboard will certainly not see it as a done deal.
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