Reshuffle thoughts: how does it score against my four criteria?

Ahead of the reshuffle, I posted four criteria against which the Liberal Democrat part of the shuffling should be judged. Now nearly all the details are in, how does it look?

 

Most importantly, have people been put in jobs they’ve got a decent chance of doing well? It’s hard enough being a minister in the smaller party in a coalition government without having lots of people thrown into policy areas they are completely new to.

On this score, the reshuffle does very well. In particular, David Laws at education, Jeremy Browne at the Home Office, Norman Lamb at health and Lynne Featherstone at international development all gives people policy areas they previously have been interested in and spend time on. David’s long-running passion for education is well known; both Norman and Jeremy were at various times the party’s spokesperson on their new patch in opposition; and Lynne has also both been international development spokesperson and taken a particular interest in the international aspects of her previous Home Office brief.

The limited swapping around of jobs with the Conservatives also makes good campaigning and electoral sense for the party – there’s far more votes to be won for the party in DEFRA (where one of the party’s many rural MPs, David Heath, takes up post) and DFID (where there is the chance to appeal to one of the party’s traditional sources of support) than in the Foreign Office, for example, especially as all the major foreign issues end up with Nick Clegg anyway.

 

Does being a minster who disappears into their department and doesn’t do much in the way of communicating or campaigning to promote the Liberal Democrats matter? Some ministers have been far better than others at this; will this be reflected in the changes?

The MPs who have done well out of the reshuffle are also good campaigners, and ones who have consistently remembered to promote the Liberal Democrat cause even when we’re in government. Jo Swinson is the most obvious, and is now clearly the party’s main rising star. Tom Brake too is in this category – he has been one of the party’s unsung heroes – and Don Foster (Andrew Stunell’s replacement) knows all about winning a tough seat in a high profile election.

Quite a few party members will have put Julian Huppert in the same category and hoped he too would enter government. I hope Julian doesn’t mind me thinking that, for the moment at least, he is best outside of government as the areas at which he excels span several areas and as being a minister would not fit with being on the Pre-legislative Scrutiny Committee for the Draft Communications Bill.

When it comes to the moves within government, Jeremy Browne had somewhat disappeared into the Foreign Office as a good minister but a very low profile advocate for the party’s cause with the public. The Home Office posting gives him a chance to remedy that.

Moving Norman Lamb to the Department of Health not  only puts a health expert in post, it also puts in one of the hotspots an MP with an excellent record at winning over party members to support a controversial policy – as he did with the Post Office and Royal Mail in opposition, partly by changing some parts of it, partly by spending a lot of time listening and communicating and partly be persuading people of the virtues of it

One or two other low-profile ministers may be breathing a sigh of relief that it hasn’t counted against them so far. If there is to be another reshuffle before the 2015 general election, that is a luxury that party can ill afford.

 

David Laws is going to come back. Even though he’s a contributor to the Orange Book and I was a contributor to Reinventing the State, I think those sorts of distinctions are pretty small set against what we have in common compared to the other parties. Bringing him back is the right move as he’s one of our most talented MPs. It would be daft however to ignore how some party members will feel about Laws’s return. So how well balanced overall are the changes made?

With Laws back and Browne into a more prominent role, not to mention the friend-of-Liberator Nick Harvey sadly leaving government, you could get all excited about a shift. Look further, however, to changes such as the big leap up for Jo Swinson and incomers such as Tom Brake who are slap in the mainstream of the party and the overall picture is one of very little change in any direction.

 

Nick Clegg’s often talked about the need to improve the party’s diversity. His previous government appointments, mini-reshuffles and House of Lords appointments have show promising moves in that direction. Yet we are also on course to go through a whole Parliament with a 100% white and male Lib Dem Cabinet line-up. How much do the changes today match the previous rhetoric, even allowing for shortage of diversity amongst those he can choose from?

One woman in, one woman out, one woman sideways. Not much progress there save that it’s no longer a case of ‘women do the equalities and children stuff’. Progress of a minimal sort.

[UPDATE: I’m led to believe by a senior source, aka I’ve had a text message from a reader, that I’ve jumped the gun a bit on this and there will be more movement when we see the final details. Hard to see where that will be in ministerial terms; perhaps we’ll see something on the PPS and Whips fronts?]

[UPDATE 2: Jenny Randerson is becoming a new Liberal Democrat minister, boosting the number of female ministers by one and also boosting the number of peers in the government by one, very handy given how stretched those peers in government have been covering all the issues in the Lords.]

Overall then? A pretty good shuffling of the Liberal Democrat deck. And none of it that important compared to what happens to the economy.

 

* Mark Pack is a member of the Federal Board and editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire. He is a candidate for Party President.

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18 Comments

  • Having seen Jeremy Browne pompously waffle on a number of occasions, frankly, anything that gives him a higher profile has got to be bad news.

    Given the absolute balls up that is the reality of PO reorganisation, not sure I’d buy a used car from Norman Lamb either

    And as for bringing Laws back into cabinet, we’ve just handed opponents yet another reason to complain

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 4th Sep '12 - 9:56pm

    Except giving the equalities brief back to the Tories has to rank as one of the most stupid things we have done in Government. Lynne was doing amazing stuff – body confidence, violence against women, equal marriage , tackling homophobia and transphobia. And she’s been replaced by someone who refers to some young people as a “feckless minority of louts” and who co-wrote Iain Duncan Smith’s social justice foundation’s papers. They came with the silly marriage tax break idea.

    This reshuffle is a huge pick me up for the Tory right and an enormous net loss for us.

  • Tony Dawson 4th Sep '12 - 9:58pm

    The rearrangement of deckchairs is a great sport. To be able to analyse such rearrangement is a true talent which few possess.

  • Laws has had an interest in education but that is not his only brief. Unless we believe that it was not a full time job before then I will remain to be convinced he will be able to deliver as effectively.

    Aside from that it remains my belief that he should not have been brought back until the next parliament at the earliest. Although many want to ignore this, he was guilty of a serious matter and if this had been Blair bringing back a friendly face after less than one parliament the Lib Dems would rightly have been up in arms. In fact when Mandelson returned for both the first and the second time (having been cleared of any wrongdoing over THAT passport) there were indeed Lib Dem voices of dissent.

    Mandelson should never have come back within that parliament having been lied of his financial situation and nor should Laws now. It’s more than a little hypocritical.

  • Have to agree with Caron on this. This is looking like a terrible development for us. What is happening in the leadership?

  • toryboysnevergrowup 4th Sep '12 - 10:50pm

    Good job there wasn’t a 5th criteria about providing an effective check and balance to the more reactionary wing of the Tory Party. Surprised that no one has mentioned that the Tories now have two more Cabinet Ministers or that there are now no LibDems in the FCO and Defence. Hardly a sign of Clegg’s strength I’m afraid.

  • mpg – “What’s happening in the leadership?” I’m actually a great admirer of Nick Clegg. Anyone who can cope with the amount of vilification, abuse and ridicule that Nick has had to endure since the election deserves sympathy. However, he and his advisers seem to me to have had rings run around them by Osborne and the other Tory strategists (amongst whom I’m not sure that I include Cameron himself). A number of the leading Tories seem to have been reading Robert Caro’s four volume (and counting) biography of Lyndon Johnson. I’ve only read one volume: loathsome tactics and an utterly compromised human being, but outcomes that changed America for the better for ever. Unfortunately it is Nick and his advisers who need to be learning the lessons of Johnson, and Machiavelli, not so that we can out-do the Tories in nastiness, but just so that we can actually be aware of what they are doing to us, believe it, and find ways of countering it.

  • What matters is outcomes, not personalities, so the reshuffle is largely theatre. However, given this lurch to the right (not just by the Tories…) our ministers and, most importantly, our backbench MPs need to resist what might come next – attempts to push every clause of the coalition agreement in the same direction. Key areas will be protecting the reasonable employment rights of workers; defending the needs of vulnerable groups (including the poor families being targeted by the benefits changes); and protecting the environment.

    The Tory disengagement from coalition has been heralded by the changes. We need to be careful not to get caught on the back foot. Sadly I fear our half of the Quad are too trusting and quite naive about just how unpleasant things are about to become.

  • One key thing I’ve yet to see commentators pick up on is the stranglehold the reshuffle gives the Tories over the economy.

    Two new Tory ministers cover that brief – Clarke with a roving role that covers growth from the Cabinet Office and Paul Deighton on economic delivery at HMT. And then some very knowledgeable and/or politically adept new ministers at HMT (Javid) and BIS (Hancock, Fallon) – the latter will probably conflict with Vince quite a bit. Also at HMT is Greg Clark, taking on financial regulation after opening up planning regulation (hopefully not the same approach he’ll take at HMT!). Despite the extra ministers, there’s no new Lib Dem role at the Treasury and Swinson is very inexperienced on the issues she’ll be responsible for at BIS.

    So whilst I agree that the reshuffle has been good for the party in terms of briefs elsewhere and personalities promoted (by and large), the Conservatives have run rings around us on economic policy and, come 2015, it will certainly still be the economy that matters most to voters.

  • Laws should never have been brought back. Anyone in any normal line of work would have been prosecuted .

  • Anyone in any normal line of work would not have had such an ambiguous system in the first place.

  • Tabman. In the context of “wrongdoing” there is no ambiguity whatsoever, whether it is in Parliamentary work or a “normal line of work”. By any standards of bebaviour Mr Laws stepped well over the mark. I don’t think he has ever claimed otherwise.

  • Steve Dyke. You are absolutely correct re. prosecution. As has been pointed out on this site, “benefit cheats” who make false claims for government financial support are vilified by the very politicians (and their freinds in the press) who tend to look kindly on fellow politicians who make financial “indiscretions”.
    Please see “Power tends to …………….” [John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton (1834–1902)]

  • Bill le Breton 5th Sep '12 - 8:51am

    Theoretically EVERY decision of the Coalition needs two parties to say ‘yes’. Obviously there are issues about coverage and linkage, but we have not yet made use of the ‘disputes panel’ that exists. How many issues have gone to it?

    In such a new post-shuffle politics we will need our own Grant Shapps. Someone who goes out whenever he goes out and says, ‘MInister X is saying this but we are saying Y and that is what we are campaigning for. Because X is saying it doesn’t mean it will happen – that’s the advantage of having us in the Coalition’

    This role then needs to be linked to integrated campaigning. So the same message and campaign is conducted everywhere where we have the strength to take it forward.

    If this is the role that Simon is meant to do, I wonder if he is now the right person to match Shapps.

  • Jan Westbury 5th Sep '12 - 1:51pm

    Will we have an explanation from the leadership as to why the ministerial changes have taken place. In particular, I cannot understand why Nick Clegg has chosen not to have ministerial representation in either MoD or the Foreign Office. What does this mean? Why did we give up these appointments – are they not important enough? What are the plans?

  • I think Norman will be wasted on Health where as he had a lot to offer at Business. Norman is a fantastic MP and and politician but as our health spokesman can anyone point to what our policy on health was other than having elected health boards?

  • Helen Dudden 11th Sep '12 - 3:19pm

    I agree, if you are interested in a subject, then it shows, that is one thing about politics in this country. I feel we should have those with passion on a subject to work in a department, that will benfit the system as a whole. Not just the fact they are a Minister.

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