The past fortnight has been instructive in just how little control David Cameron has
over the make-up of his Cabinet. Every choice he makes, it seems, has to be weighed against the fragile balance of the coalition, as well as against the internal divides of the two coalition
parties themselves. I mean, Vince Cable calls the Tories "ruthless, calculating and thoroughly tribal" — only the latest of a series of provocations — and his position doesn’t
look precarious in the slightest. Chris Huhne is mired in a scandal that may still terminate his political career, and yet there is little indication that the scythes of Downing Street are moving
to cut him down. David Laws cannot yet be brought back into government, despite the eagerness of both Cameron and Clegg to do so, because of both his expenses infractions and the absence of a
suitable berth for his talents. And although today’s leaked
MoD letter may not be a sacking offence so far as Liam Fox is concerned, the Westminster chatter is of how the Defence Secretary cannot be budged anyway — because doing so would aggravate
the Tory right.
Naturally, some of this goes with the job of being Prime Minister. All parties are coalitions, after all, with their own factions to be soothed and satisfied. And we know that Cameron is not minded
to regularly change his ministerial team in any case — a fact he emphasised in his "http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/6934453/cameron-sets-out-the-bounds-of-lib-dem-assertiveness.thtml">interview with the Sun last week. But there has still been something extraordinary
about the past few weeks. Never has it been clearer that some ministers — the Cables and the Foxes, perhaps — are in almost immovable positions; there until they decide to move
themselves. Never clearer that the Prime Minister is not in complete control of his top team. It does make you suspect that when the reshuffles come — such as that expected for next year
— they will be determined just as much by the tides of party sentiment as by what David Cameron actually wants.
UPDATE: I’ve just noticed that Paul Goodman has some similar thoughts "http://conservativehome.blogs.com/thetorydiary/2011/05/a-lesson-of-the-huhne-affair-cameron-isnt-in-full-charge-of-the-cabinet.html">here. Writing on how Clegg has control over certain Cabinet
positions, he says, "Coalition’s an unusual business with unusual requirements, but it’s worth noting that Cameron is the first modern Prime Minister to have relinquished control over four
appointments to his own Cabinet."