Reshuffle: One Nation Toryism has gone to meet its maker

David Cameron - Some rights reserved by The Prime Minister's OfficeDavid Cameron’s extensive reshuffle of the Tory ministerial ranks will continue today. Last night we learned of the casualties; today will be dedicated to the winners. But there’s no doubt at all about the biggest casualty: moderate, One Nation Toryism.

Ken Clarke, famously dubbed the sixth Lib Dem cabinet member, has gone. Too sensible to be left in charge of the Justice ministry he was exiled to the Cabinet’s fringes in 2012; now he has been retired completely. William Hague – transformed from a right-wing Tory leader who scaremongered about Britain becoming a ‘foreign land’ into a pragmatic Foreign Secretary willing to champion causes such as war rape ahead of EU renegotiation – has taken voluntary redundancy.

Clarke and Hague are the household names. At least as missed will be those few have heard of, such as Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General. He’s no-one’s idea of a pinko-liberal, but he did appreciate and understand the importance of international law and human rights. Science and Universities minister David Willetts – the original Tory moderniser and one of the most intellectually curious politicians around – has been despatched. So, too, have moderate Tories such as Greg Barker (a Tory who believes in climate change) and Damian Green (a Tory whose pro-immigration sympathies has already seen Cameron sideline him).

True, Cameron has also shunted Environment Secretary Owen Paterson – once tipped as a likely future leader by Tory right-wingers – out of the cabinet; though the IQ gain from his departure will be offset by the call-back for fellow right-winger Liam Fox, forced to resign in 2011 for allowing an advisor to abuse his access to the then defence secretary. (I think, though, Tim Montgomerie is right to suggest Cameron may come to regret Paterson’s despatch: a potent right-wing rival, lacking until now, has the freedom of the backbenches to make his pitch.)

And yes, there will be newer, fresher Tory moderates who today are favoured by Cameron – perhaps Anna Soubry or Gavin Barwell or Robert Buckland or Jane Ellison. It won’t all be one-way traffic in the right’s favour.

But the direction of travel is clear. And despite the claims of some like Lord Ashcroft that this reshuffle is about the optics not the politics, I’m afraid I just don’t buy it. Hague’s replacement as Foreign Secretary looks set to be Philip Hammond, who last year said he would vote for the UK to leave the European Union if a vote were held now. And Grieve’s exit is a clear signal – you might call it a dog-whistle – that the Tories will make withdrawal from the European Court of Human Rights a manifesto pledge. This is a rightward tilt for the Tories, a statement of intent from Cameron that liberal Conservatism is dead.

Nick Clegg has wisely eschewed the chance of combining his reshuffle of the Lib Dem ranks with that of Cameron’s: any changes made, such as the promotion of Jo Swinson, would have disappeared without trace given the scale of the Tory overhaul.

In one sense the reshuffle is helpful for the Lib Dems – Cameron’s done more to differentiate us from the Tories than we could have hoped.

In another sense, it’s less hopeful. My view remains that the Tories will emerge from the next election the single largest party. If that happens, it’s hard to see any possible Lib Dem accommodation with Cameron’s party in which case the Lib Dems will have to do what we can to thwart the Tories from the opposition benches. While that my keep our liberal hands cleaner, it’s likely to mean more authoritarian government policy enacted.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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30 Comments

  • Jonathan Pile 15th Jul '14 - 9:39am

    Things are looking up – let’s celebrate National Gove Gone Day!
    So that Butler-Sloss and Gove all in one week .. could we make the treble ?

  • jedibeeftrix 15th Jul '14 - 10:03am

    Fox was an excellent defence secretary given the enormous cuts demanded a new vision of how Britain would project power in future. He provided that vision, and it was the right one. Equally, the job after the required a competent administrator, a role spreadsheet Phil was far more able to fulfill.

  • Overall It would appear that the Conservatives are gearing up for a differentiation strategy. Their hunch is that Europhobia, opposition to the ECHR, greater anti-terrorism surveillance, increased defence spending and further restrictions on welfare benefits will have popular appeal.

    As the election draws closer, they may well claim that Liberal Democrats have impeded recovery. Doubtless that their differentiation strategy will make the Lib Dem differentiation strategy more effective, but I am nervous in the current climate how voters will respond.

    If Labour remain true to form their policies will shift towards the Tory direction, leaving Lib Dems as the proponents for Liberalism. How we will fare is moot: I do expect Liberalism to be dealt a concerted trashing as the election approaches.

  • @jedibeeftrix pity about the foreign junkets that Fox was taking his cronies on if he really was such a good defense secretary you would have hoped he would have known better.

  • If One Nation Conservatism is dead isn’t it time the Coalition ended as surely these were the Tories we could do business with?

  • At least the reshuffle may make the conservatives look more representative of the people they govern which is more than what I can say about the Lib Dems.

  • Alisdair McGregor 15th Jul '14 - 10:53am

    As Cameron goes hard right, and Miliband has long since retreated to the wastes of puritan leftism, there is now a huge space for us to make our voice heard as a Liberal voice for the UK.

  • The question is who is that voice. No one listens to Nick anymore.

  • Paul Reynolds 15th Jul '14 - 11:21am

    The new UK-proposed EU Commissioner has had a career uncannily like the Prime Minister’s…. a kind of generalist with a business background in lobbying and PR, and time spent in the Tory research department. A new British model for political success ?

  • Helen Tedcastle 15th Jul '14 - 12:19pm

    Delighted for colleagues in the teaching profession and most parents that Gove has been demoted. Of course he should have been sacked but we can’t have everything. If Cameron uses Gove as a spokesperson during the election, I’m glad, because he will lose votes.

    However, the right-wing ideology imposed on education will continue under Nicky Morgan, even if her style is less confrontational. This must not be forgotten.

    Now that Cameron has shifted his Cabinet decisively to the Thatcherite right, perhaps Nick might consider differentiation – I’m still waiting.

  • Jayne Mansfield 15th Jul '14 - 12:47pm

    @ Helen Tedcastle,
    I absolutely agree with you.
    Welcome back

  • matt (Bristol) 15th Jul '14 - 12:57pm

    @ Alisdair Macgregor – “As Cameron goes hard right, and Miliband has long since retreated to the wastes of puritan leftism, there is now a huge space for us to make our voice heard as a Liberal voice for the UK.”

    Well, ye-esss. But Cameron has clearly decided that the public think ‘liberalism’ is appointing women, accepting gay marriage, and occasionally ordering dirty but-old-laundry-airing enquiries into htings we disapprove of that happened in the past; he will seek to proclaim, effectively, as Blair did, that he is liberal enough for the modern UK, and that our form if liberalism is faddish, eccentrice.

    In the background Miliband thinks he can steal some of our other clothes by vague promises of undefined devolution, and has written us off as a party he can do a deal with. This would be comounded if Nick Clegg were to oust VInce Cable in an attempt to match Tory modernising.

    So, if what you say is right, we could be a ‘voice’ for liberalism but have much less room to achieve liberal policies as neither of the other 2 main (at present) parties is likely to be a workable partner in government (if we get that chance, which is unlikely at the enxt eleciton but not impossible), nor to listen to a small party outside of government.

  • Night of the Long knives 2.
    There’s an air of desperation about it.

  • Jayne Mansfield 15th Jul '14 - 1:09pm

    I have just listened to Dominic Grieve, he is very angry .
    In my opinion, he will cause trouble from the back bench.

  • Jonathan Hill nominated for EU commissioner – ex Ken Clarke SpAd, ex-right-hand-man to Major during Maastricht crisis…

  • Whilst Lord Hill may be more pro-EU than other members of his party, that the UK is sending someone who has not be elected to any office to an institution, that all sides seem agree needs to be more democratic, is perhaps a bit of a mistake? Ken Clarke himself may well have been the right person.

  • The Tories have drained every last drop out of Clegg and the Orange brigade. Now,with an election less than a year away they can drop any pretence about a green, new Toryism and go full wingnut. The lib Dems have played a massive role in revitalising the Tory party. And the reward is now to see their partners reveal their true colours. I hope you are all proud of your role in helping the Tories because you haven’t helped your selfs. You have achieved little policy wise. A few tax changes that can easily be wiped away by a future Tory chancellor and a bit of blocking here and there.

    But you have conspired to begin mass privatisation of healthcare and education. huge tax cuts for the richest people and corporates . Good luck trying to get all those teachers and health workers who voted for you last time to vote for you again.

  • Sarah Ludford 15th Jul '14 - 2:53pm

    I agree with Paul Reynolds and ATF that the model for a certain type of political success these days seems to be by having no elected experience. I can’t help contrasting the strains on a parliamentary candidate – https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-the-pressures-of-being-a-parliamentary-candidate-41560.html – and of course on elected councillors, MPs and MEPs, with the political career Lord Hill is enjoying unencumbered by all those demands.

    Of course someone will point out that I’m a fine one to talk, being a peer, but I have had almost quarter of a century of elected office as councillor and MEP. It’s also true that many of our LibDem Lords are working their socks off. I acknowledge that Lord Hill will have had a considerable workload as Leader of the Lords. But my point is that it’s beginning to look a waste of space going through all the effort (as well as joys) of seeking and holding elected positions when the best route to glory looks like being via life as a publically unaccountable backroom boy with no demanding constituency business and the Lords.

  • I am not entirely certain that when Stephen wrote this he could state unambiguously that it is a victory of the right over “the left” in the Tories. We don’t / didn’t know the politics of the newcomers. Although I have to say I don’t like Hammond, and have always been sceptical of his “say very little on the media, I’m a safe pair of hands” approach, we cannot but applaud the getting rid of Michael Gove (very definitely a right wing ideologist), and Owen Paterson (the ignorant of climate change minister. It is interesting that Cameron has transferred Liz Truss to Environment rather than promote her directly to Education Sec, where her right-wingery has been evident. Do we know any of Nicky Morgan’s views etc?

    To me it looks as if Cameron is actually making an effort to look a bit “early Cameron liberal Tory”, rather than the opposite. He may be shoring up the europhobe element to repel the UKIP charge, which today’s ICM says is fading anyway, as we expected.

  • Tony Dawson 15th Jul '14 - 6:49pm

    @Sally

    ” you have conspired to begin mass privatisation of healthcare and education”

    And there i was thinking that Tony Blair forced through Academies by the score and Andy Burnham insisted that every single NHS Trust contracted for a fixed part of its work with private providers even when nothing was actually consumed.

    Silly me! 🙁

  • This is clearly just bluff and show – nothing more.

    There is no practical benefit behind – less than a year before an election – promoting an MP (previously a solicitor) with no ministerial experience and only 4 years experience to the highest role in Education, nor is there any political benefit to this particular MP’s non-descript, run-of-the-mill, right wing views.

    Furthermore, there is no real sign of confidence putting another non-discript j-minister into a Cab role you do not care about, again less than a year before the election.

    The only thing these two ministers give Cameron is two photogenic women in his cabinet come election day. Hopefully, the public will see this for the shallow political gaming it is. Though, I do feel insulted on behalf of the women of Britain that Cameron really believes they are stupid enough to fall for this.

  • I too fear that this looks like a mix of election stunt and lurch-to-the-right. This is scary. Labour’s capacity to shoot theme selves in the foot (note least over their choice of leader) harms their electoral prospects. Tories-lurched-to-the right also look unattractive. We’re left with Lib Dems being the only party that would do something sensible in power, but no real prospect of that…. All-in-all this sounds a recipe for more disaffection from politics, from which only UKIP stand to gain.

  • I’d respond fully to jedibeeftrix’s advocacy for Dr Fox but I doubt my language would survive moderation.

    Grieve and Green are sad losses. My friend who works for Justice is very worried about Grieve’s departure and reckons the new guy is nothing more than a stooge. The Tories are finally going to trash the human rights act.

  • Jayne Mansfield 16th Jul '14 - 8:28am

    @ Mark Argent,
    Ukip voters are already returning to the Tory party according to one poll. Given the right wing views of those who have replaced the likes of Ken Clarke, no doubt this will continue so that the Tories get an overall majority at the next election..

    Frightening.

  • Jayne, if the Conservatives did get an overwhelming majority it would give US a chance to breathe and start to recapture some of the enormous ground that will be lost next year , you could possible expect the odd by election success by 2017/18.

  • Michael Gove has taken his ‘demotion’, far too well.
    I believe Cameron has tactically pulled Gove from Education to cool things prior to the election. By giving him the Chief Whip job, Cameron has given Gove a key ‘Rottweiler’ role in getting the Conservatives re-elected in May 2015.
    And the secret deal between Cameron and Gove is that If Gove achieves that Tory re-election, he [Gove] can have back Education, to resume where he left off?

  • Stephen Campbell 16th Jul '14 - 12:50pm

    @Tony Dawson: “And there i was thinking that Tony Blair forced through Academies by the score and Andy Burnham insisted that every single NHS Trust contracted for a fixed part of its work with private providers even when nothing was actually consumed.”

    Left-leaning people such as myself used to vote Liberal Democrat precisely because of the things Labour did that you just mentioned. When Labour were in power, you lot made a big deal out of how you would not do things such as introducing more privatisation into the NHS.

    Your argument boils down to “Labour did it, too. So therefore it’s fine when we do it.” That just shows how far this party is fallen when “Labour did it first” is a justification for your actions. I suppose if this government ever invaded a country illegally like Blair did with Iraq you would turn around and use the same argument as above.

    And people say those left in the Liberal Democrats have no principles left!

  • SIMON BANKS 23rd Jul '14 - 7:55pm

    Hammond for Hague may satisfy the so-called Euro-sceptics (a complete misnomer, for to be sceptical about something is to doubt it, not to damn it) for a while, but Hammond’s style in government so far has been low-key, moderate and listening. As a newly-arrived Transport Secretary in 2010 he was faced by a strike in BA which was giving thousands of holidaymakers trouble. His response was to say that both unions and management ought to sit down together and be willing to give ground. A Trade Union leader from another sector whom I happened to meet said, “That’s exactly the line to take.” He also went as far as discretion and party discipline allowed to say that he’d regretted Nick Harvey’s sacking. He’s a moderate who’s dodgy on Europe.I suspect he will move with caution.

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