Parliamentary party management is, perhaps, the subtlest of the political arts. It is,
obviously, particularly difficult in coalition. But the Cameroons are still scoring a ‘must do better’ grade on this work.
The mini reshuffle was fairly neatly executed. But it has, almost inevitably, left behind some bruised feelings.
Part of the problem is that the Whips’ office is, to borrow a phrase, neither Sandhurst nor a proper careers’ department. Ministers and MPs are all too often left to guess at why they
have been passed over for promotion.
There is also a tendency for people to be rapidly promoted and then fall out of favour almost as suddenly. Theresa Villiers, for example, was one of only two members of the 2005 intake to make it
into David Cameron’s first shadow Cabinet, the other was David Mundell. Her early promotion was a sign
of her political potential — as an intelligent, financially literate Eurosceptic she brings a great deal to the party.
Villiers was then moved to the transport brief in 2007 before ending up as the minister of state in the department after the election because of the knock-on effects of the coalition squeeze on
Tory Cabinet jobs. She now finds herself passed over for the Secretary of State job with, according to one person I’ve heard from, no explanation. Now, the question isn’t whether this
is the right decision — I happen to think that Greening is probably better suited to what the government needs right now in the brief — but about courtesy and communication.
This need for this is going to become even more acute in the coming years. Chloe Smith’s promotion suggests that those elected in 2005 or before who aren’t ministers yet, never will be.
This means that they will require particularly delicate handling if the parliamentary party is not to become overly fractious.