A major reshuffle will see 'old lags' move along to be replaced with fresh new faces. Whether this signals a change of purpose is another matter.
David Cameron is undertaking a major reorganization of his government in an attempt to present a more voter-friendly image ahead of next year’s general election. Meanwhile, comment-section pundits scramble to make the first reference to outdoor seating arrangements on ill-fated passenger liners. The overarching theme of the cabinet reshuffle looks to be ‘out with the old, in with the diverse’ as numerous ‘old lags’ are in many cases set to be replaced by men and women young enough to be their children. The idea here is of course to cultivate an image of the Tories as modern and forward-thinking, which as far as public image campaigns go is about as absurd as Michael Fabricant’s declaration that he was the new ‘butch face’ of the Conservative Party.
Don’t get too worried; Osborne and May are very secure in their current senior cabinet positions. The likes of chief whip Sir George Young and leader of the Commons Andrew Lansley, however, can begin drafting their memoirs as they step into retirement. Former minister without portfolio Ken Clarke has already stepped down, as have David Willetts and David Jones amongst others. Most surprising however is William Hague's resignation from the position of foreign secretary, most likely to focus on cultivating his remote sheep farm in Yorkshire with wife Ffion. His replacement, Phillip Hammond, will lend a decidedly Eurosceptic bent to the reformed cabinet (and is truly a Young Turk at a mere 58 years of age).
Speculation has surrounded the status of secretary of state for work and pensions Iain Duncan Smith after crack investigative journalist and part-time stage manager Sarah Quinney posted details from a phone conversation overheard on a train to Facebook. Supposedly, a ‘loud and posh’ woman on the phone talked of MP Esther McVey replacing IDS at the DWP. As a former officer of the Scots Guards, Duncan Smith himself is well-suited to replace Hammond as defence secretary.
Are the revelations of this phone conversation to be trusted? Friends of Duncan Smith have strenuously denied the rumours, and special advisor Romilly Dennys, the supposed train-phone-woman, has stated that she is ‘pretty convinced’ that Mrs Quinney is a Labour supporter (i.e. naturally predisposed to fabricating eerily specific overheard conversations to discredit the coalition government in her own inimitable way).
The list of those who can expect a promotion is considerably longer. The likes of Greg Hands, Mark Harper, Liz Truss, Nicky Morgan, Priti Patel, Amber Rudd and of course Esther McVey are all in the running. Readers will of course remember McVey as a presenter for Reportage, BBC2’s short-lived current affairs program aimed at the nation’s youth. Alongside her experience on How Do They Do That? she is the natural poster child of a cutting-edge Conservative party, potentially as culture secretary. The above short list also evidences that Cameron will aim to place a lot more women into senior cabinet roles.
Cameron’s reshuffle is evidently a rather heavy-handed attempt to ensure that the brightest and freshest faces are at the forefront of the Tory party heading into 2015. It’s also a spectacularly lame attempt at convincing the general public that his party is fully committed to gender equality, alongside his vaunted all-women shortlists. Anyone who believes that this pre-election window dressing is anything more than a political marketing strategy is sure to be sorely disappointed at the next reshuffle.
To be clear: the status of women in British politics (and as a corollary the cause of feminism as a whole) is in no way served by this reshuffle unless one believes that artificially shoving women into cabinet positions is a viable substitute for an egalitarian meritocracy. Of course the Tories don’t deserve to take all the flak; all 5 of the Lib Dem's cabinet ministers are men.The rather ironic reality is that this reshuffle only serves as another example of just how far Westminster has to go to achieve gender equality in politics.