I have been challenged by Nick Thornsby to take part in a discussion about how the Coalition is doing and how I’d reshuffle the Government.
I agree with Nick that I think on day to day business, at least from what we see, the Coalition is working well. I do hear hints, however, that our Ministers do have to work very hard on issues that are important to us. Sometimes an argument thought won can break out somewhere else. That’s part of the nature of any government, though. This one is a very grown up sort of Government, with disagreements being openly admitted but for the most part handled in a mature and honest fashion. Having said that, there’s definitely an argument for giving Nick more back up in overseeing the work of Government as a whole, and that’s what I’ve decided to do in my reshuffle.
I know we’re only 8 months in, but it has to be pretty functional so far compared to most others I’ve been aware of in my life. Mrs Thatcher treated her Cabinet appallingly and did not brook any dissent. John Major, bless him, was a very different kettle of fish, someone I have a great deal of time for. He endured open warfare from his Cabinet down after the 1992 election, which poisoned his whole term. I admired him for the dignity he showed in the face of all of that. It was quite a classy move when he forced a leadership contest with John Redwood in 1995. Even so, that only lanced the boil for a short while. Almost the entire 13 years of Labour were beset by internal strife and power struggle which was deeply unpleasant to witness.
It does seem sometimes like Cameron and Clegg have an air of boys playing at “The West Wing”. However, they do seem to have formed a pretty tight group at the centre of government with their close allies Danny Alexander and George Osborne. Its unofficial name, “the Quad” is so private school that it gives me, as they say in Scotland, the dry boke but, aesthetics aside, it seems to work. My unease at the major decisions of Government being taken by 4 men is slightly mitigated by the fact that they are all reasonably young with modern, young families. The gender balance across the Government is appalling – and the fact that the Tories are better than we are at this is embarrassing beyond belief. I’m going to address that too.
But first, the Cabinet positions. I had initially decided that it would be a good idea to dump Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary and replace him with David Laws so we’d have a Lib Dem dealing with Murdoch. The only way round that, as there was no way on earth I was prepared to see a Tory Scottish Secretary as Nick Thornsby was, would have been to sacrifice Chris Huhne. I am keeping Vince Cable because I feel safer with him there. The prospect of a Tory in charge of Climate Change was equally horrid, so I have decided that the Cabinet should revert to Plan A.
I am hoping that David Laws will soon be cleared by the Standards people. What I would do is give him his old job back and put Danny back to Scotland. That would mean that he could go back to the original plan, that he doesn’t have time for in the all consuming Chief Secretary role, of being on many Cabinet Committees, providing invaluable back up to Nick in overseeing what’s going on across Government.
In terms of Ministers, I’m afraid one bad appearance on Question Time was enough for me to want to send Jeremy Browne packing to the back benches. He actually sounded more Tory than the Tory he was on with. Nick Clegg has enough of an understanding of foreign policy for me not to worry too much about that Department. However, the Coalition’s local Government team needs more Liberal Democrat influence. Step forward Ros Scott, who has shown she has the skills, chairing the FE during the most sensitive and momentous decisions in its history. After that, Eric Pickles would be a piece of cake.
Ken Clarke is also doing a wonderfully liberal job as Justice Secretary, so there’s no need for Tom McNally really. We can get rid of him and bring in Jo Swinson at Energy and Climate Change as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State.
I could probably go on, but think I’ll leave it there for the moment. Apologies to Mike Moore – he’s doing a good job as Secretary of State for Scotland, and I would prefer to keep him.