Understandably, recent British headlines have been dominated by Prime Minister David Cameron’s sweeping and divisive reshuffle of his cabinet, just ten months away from a General Election that could turn into one of the bloodiest in history.
Neither the traditional big two – the Conservative and Labour parties – enter the campaign in a strong position, their PR campaigns an utter mess. Cameron is disliked by left and right alike, Miliband remains comically incompetent and, well, just comical, and in recent elections, both parties have haemorrhaged votes to UKIP.
Meanwhile, the minor partner of the ruling Coalition, the Liberal Democrats, are in free-fall. Just over four years ago it all seemed so different as “Clegg-mania” swept like wildfire, only for the new Messiah to predictably shed his promises like a snake in the heat, while hindering the Coalition’s work – particularly that of brilliant former Education Secretary Michael Gove – in order to point-score through shallow and expensive political gimmicks that hit trust in the government hard.
Will the power of Coalition prove worth it for Clegg come 2015, given his significant loss of local councillors and near eradication in the European Parliament? If you trust polls then absolutely not, their decimation is all but guaranteed.
So to the reshuffle. The huge moves include the resignation of Foreign Secretary William Hague; the demotion of Education Secretary Michael Gove to Chief Whip, replaced by Treasury Minister Nicky Morgan; and the loss of the brilliantly experienced and respected Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson – a known Eurosceptic – in favour of Education Minister Liz Truss, who has no known knowledge or experience of farming or rural issues. Ken Clarke has retired to the backbenches while Employment and Disabilities Minister Esther McVey will now attend Cabinet meetings – the reaction to which has been shameful, with press of the left and right falling over themselves to discuss her beauty and nothing else.
Notably, for the first time since 1941 and for only the second time ever, there will be no one from the House of Lords attending Cabinet after the Leader of the Lords has been dropped to make way for new attendees. Such a demotion meant the salary received by Baroness Stowell of Beeston automatically fell significantly, despite it being the same role as her male predecessor, causing howls of indignation and a swift promise by Downing Street to top it up from Tory coffers. Finally, Cameron learns that modernisation comes at a price.
Opinions on the reshuffle are strongly divided; many have lauded the promotion of ten women out of forty appointments, three women into the Cabinet, while many of us see it as a cynical bid to sanitise the Tory image ahead of 2015.
Others have called the reshuffle an attempt at wooing disaffected Eurosceptics, as solid sceptics Philip Hammond and Michael Fallon received promotions to Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary respectively, the latter claiming “the Cabinet is Eurosceptic now”, while other sceptics including favourite of the right, Priti Patel, also received promotion.
The removal of Dominic Grieve from his post as Attorney General and Ken Clarke’s removal from Cabinet further fuel Fallon’s deduction. However, to make this assumption ignores both the demotion of Owen Paterson and Michael Gove, both UKIP favourites, and indeed ignores Cameron’s arrogance. It is too simple.
This morning it all became a little clearer and I cannot help but feel that the sole purpose of this reshuffle was to fully prepare Cameron’s party for next year’s battle and signal the beginning of the two Coalition partners’ attempts to distance themselves in the minds of the electorate, imperative for either to succeed.
The reshuffle is complex and smart: a few Eurosceptics thrown in, the vested interests appeased by the removal of Gove and a puppet, even better a female puppet, put in his place. A prettier, softer image for the Conservatives and a Cabinet full of solid, steady and malleable Ministers instead of mavericks.
It seems time has come for the separation of the Coalition in all but name, as both parties fight to prove just how diametrically opposed they are not just in policy but in principles and strive to show just how differently they would govern post-2015 in order to absolve themselves of the mistakes of this current term.
This morning, the Lib Dems have taken the first shot. In spectacularly dishonest Cleggy style, his party announced its opposition to recent changes to housing benefit, the very changes they have supported both within the Commons, in the media and to the public; cynicism to the point of damning stupidity for a man whose reputation for honesty is mud.
This was swiftly followed by the Tories declaring war on the European Convention on Human Rights, leading Clegg, who apparently wouldn’t recognise popular public opinion if it bit him on the ear, to label the proponents of reform as “extremists” and “headbangers”.
The parties are already divided on Europe, a key issue running up to next year’s General Election, and today’s antics signal that the gloves are off on welfare too as the Lib Dems attempt to separate themselves from the policies they have supported since 2010. Bets have been placed as to whether or not the Coalition will make it through to 2015 since they first kissed and made up in the Rose Garden over four years ago. I imagine the odds are swiftly changing in the favour of “no”.
The thinking behind this reshuffle becomes clear. Cameron has created a Cabinet of war and judging by today, this war begins now.