Memo to Cameron: don’t listen to media on reshuffle; don’t sack Ken Clarke; and ta for Dream School visit
Posted on 7 April 2011 | 1:04pm
I have read in several places in recent days that David Cameron is ‘under mounting pressure’ to conduct a Cabinet reshuffle.
‘Under mounting pressure’ is one of the many dozens of phrases which rarely emerge from the mouths of real people, but regularly appear in print. Real people tend to speak of ‘pressure’ or, if a size-type adjective is required, ‘growing’. Speaking purely unscientifically, I think ‘real’ is the word which appears most often before ‘pressure’ when real people are talking about it.
All a long winded way of saying the ‘mounting pressure’ is coming largely from newspapers and broadcasters who always enjoy reshuffles because it gives them near limitless opportunity for fictitious speculation – I can remember George Robertson once confidently being predicted for almost ten different Cabinet posts, and he ended up staying where he was; it gives them a news sponge for a day or two when the reshuffle is actually happening; and then there is scope for a lot of rehashed profiles presented as new when the change actually comes. Then life goes on largely as before.
All a long-winded way of saying to David Cameron (I know some of his team are avid readers, and they say he continues to be obsessed with all aspects of the Blair operation) that unless he himself feels under growing, mounting or real pressure to have a reshuffle, then he shouldn’t.
It is of course the case that some of his Cabinet are clearly not up to the task. But even that is not enough to conduct major ministerial surgery unless he is sure he has a better team to put in place. And although a few favourites for promotion are emerging – usually because they talk to the media a lot, and spend much of those conversations undermining the Cabinet – he, deputy Prime Minister George Osborne (sorry Nick) and their chief whip should make their own judgement about who is able and who is not.
There then comes the tricky question of how to communicate that you’re not having a reshuffle, when in truth you always want to have the option to be able to conduct one at a time of your choosing. This is not just a problem purely of media management but real political management. Even though ministers know political journalists make up stories and write considerable quantities of garbage, when it comes to stories about their own futures, they tend to believe them. TB told the story in his book of how Andrew Smith offered to resign rather than be pushed, having read about his axeing in a pending reshuffle. It was nigh on impossible to persuade him the story was nonsense. I’m afraid there is no alternative but to ignore the talk, and use what we call ‘body language’ to indicate no big change any time soon.
Of course the media love to have a few ‘dead men walking’ as part of their soap opera -and for the right wing media in particular this is a role partly filled at the moment by Ken Clarke, who is making the terrible mistake (in Mail-Telegraph-Sunland) of thinking intelligently about issues of crime, punishment, rehabilitation and re-offending.
So another piece of advice to DC – ignore the phonehackers at News and the mouthfrothers in Dacreville, and listen to Ken. If he gets the chop, a lot of that hard work done ‘detoxifying the brand’ will be undone. Throw in the disastrous NHS reforms (which of course the right love) and he really will be in trouble.
That’s enough advice for one day. I would like to close by thanking him, genuinely, for allowing me to take the kids from Dream School to meet him in Number 10. I missed the programme last night, as I was attending the latest happy chapter in the success story that is Sir AF, and the equally happy chapter in the ‘money can’t buy everything’ story of Roman A. I hear it covered the somewhat tense and occasionally bad-tempered buld-up to our visit. As to what happened, tune in next Wednesday.