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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.

  • As a Chelsea supporter I didn’t like part of your last para and rolled my eyes but the rest of your blog is fine by me. All the reshuffles in the world won’t improve the quality of the present government which at best is shambolic but I suppose one will help to pass the time until the next GE.

  • ambrosian

    I suppose the one person that Cameron cannot sack is Clegg who in recent interviews is emerging as the St Sebastian figure of modern politics, tied to his post and pierced with arrows. In today’s interview we learn that his young son asks ‘why do students hate you, Papa?’ (Who the hell calls their father ‘Papa’ these days? Are these people living in an episode of The Forsyte Saga?)
    This reminded me of Piers Morgan once revealing that his son asked him why people shouted ‘tosser’ at his father. As a tactic to make you seem more human and likeable it just doesn’t work, serving only to remind people that you are a hate figure or a tosser and that even your nearest and dearest are aware of that perception. But it was generous of Clegg to give such an interview in a week when both Have I Got News For You and The News Quiz are about to return. For satirists, he’s the gift that keeps on giving.

  • Gilliebc

    Really good post ambrosian. I particularly liked the bit about “papa” and the reference to the Forsyte Saga. These people that are supposed to represent might just as well have come from another era or planet.
    I’m looking forward to the new series of “Have I got news….” And would also like to see Rory Bremner back on C4 again with his take on the current Government.

    Great blog post AC very perceptive. But as an ex-newspaper columnist and ex-communications person you are in your element on this subject.
    I agree with you as ever about Ken Clarke. He may be getting on a bit, but at least his ideas are more in-line with the 21st Century.

  • Ehtch

    I normally like a couple of characters or three in an average Tory(/LibDem) government, but I am seriously struggling with this lot. In the days of Thatcher, Michael Heseltine and Alan Clark were interesting, with their maverick ways, and I had time to listen to Geoffrey Howe and Willie Whitelaw, and also to Keith Joseph to a certain extent.

    But none of these in the coalition seem to be up to much, in my opinion.

  • Anonymous

    AC is being a bit crafty here. The Tories have got some hopeless people in high places, and some of them (I shall name no names) are a gift to Labour. I wholeheartedly agree, let them all stay where they are.

  • marymot

    Good advice but I would also suggest a new Chancellor. For George Osborne to compare Britain to Greece,Ireland and Portugal is like comparing me financially to himself or David Cameron. We start from a very different level.

    Looking forward to next week’s Dream School. Best wishes to all of them (well, most of them )

  • justsayin’

    “(Who the hell calls their father ‘Papa’ these days? Are these people living in an episode of The Forsyte Saga?)”

    People with a Spanish parent call their father ‘Papa’. Just a little FYI.

  • JohnC

    References to papa, the Spanish word for dad,are a bit cheap and ignorant here. Perfectly to be expected in an English/Spanish family.

  • John C

    Papa is the Spanish word for dad. What else do you expect a young son of mixed Spanish/English parentage to call his father?

  • dagi

    I hope Cameron learns from the past and does not have an extensive reshuffle. Ministers need time to develop expertise.

    The Chris Mullin diaries refer to the number of people Blair appointed in the Foreign Office to be the Government’s Africa representative, on average politicians barely lasted 12 months in the role.

    I’m not a big fan of the coalition, but I hope we can avoid repeating past mistakes.

  • Gilliebc

    @ JohnC…

    That’s us told then! Spoilsport

  • Gilliebc

    Yes we “heard” you the first time!
    “What else do you expect a young son of mixed parentage to call his father?”
    Well now, let me think, given that this particular father is Clegg……………..

  • ClauseBore

    Hi Alastair, nothing to do with your post but I just read an article in the Guardian about what might have been if John Smith had lived…reading all the comments that followed, which roughly went along the lines of, “Wouldn’t life have been great without Tony Blair” inspired me to write my first ever rant on a newspaper website comment section.
    And here it is:

    “The year is 1997. Labour’s John Smith is swept to power in a landslide victory. So what happens next?”

    What a load of old tosh! Without Tony Blair there would have been 5 election defeats in a row for Labour.

    The Labour movement wouldn’t have had a hope of winning the 1997 election until Tony Blair reformed the redundant protest movement that it was. The Labour Party was unloved & untrusted by the electorate in the mid 1990’s until Tony Blair made the public at large feel they could trust it with power and all this left leaning revisionism is laughable.

    Tony Blair was a great Prime Minister! Under his leadership, his government helped deliver peace in Northern Ireland, economic stability, (until the world wide crash after he left power), investment in Schools, investment in the NHS and the minimum wage among many other things.

    And yes, he went to Iraq but do you honestly believe any other Prime Minister from any other party wouldn’t have done the same thing? Do you honestly believe that Britain’s best interests would have been served by ditching our closest and most powerful ally when they asked for our help? And Libya is teaching us what happens when you leave a dangerous tyrant to his own devices.

    Yes Iraq was a mess for a long period and it is an awful fact that many lives were lost. However, many lives were tortured and lost long before the invasion of Iraq and that would have continued under Saddam Hussein.

    Sorry for the rant but reading all these ridiculous, “Wouldn’t life had been better without Tony Blair,” comments makes me feel like some sort of collective delusion has swept the Guardian readership.

    The simple fact is that without Tony Blair, Labour would have continued to be a student protest movement & William Hague may have had a cozy 10 year stint as Prime Minister.

    John Smith RIP

  • Ehtch

    How about Pops, as Guyanese called there dads, apparently.

    Used to play cricket with a bunch of them, at Selsdon Cricket Club, Croydon, a brilliant cricket club, who included the son of Elisabeth Beresford, from Wombles fame even. Yes, he was the one that came out with wombles on Wimbledon common, in Wombles fame. Drives a stream train around Britain, I believe, these days

    They all looked exactly like this bloke, more or less, briliant fellas,

  • ambrosian

    In reply to those who take me to task over ‘Papa’, if the child is of mixed Spanish/English parentage but born and living in England, there is surely an equally strong (or stronger) case for following English practice and saying ‘Dad’ or ‘Daddy’. But an outsider’s impression is that Mrs Clegg rules the roost. After all, the children are being indoctrinated in the Catholic faith, even though ‘Papa’ is an atheist. How very liberal!

  • marymot

    I think a lib-dem PM (can’t see that for a while) may have avoided war but not because they didn’t believe in WMD. I don’t know anyone here or abroad who denied they were there at the time. Maybe someone can correct me!
    I too think the (mainly) British public have been brainwashed as far as TB’s concerned as much by what they were not told eg.that Dr Kelly was very much convinced, ‘tho reluctantly , that war was necessary.
    Read the Hutton Report for yourself–it’s still on line. It’s fascinating.

  • Richard

    The bile and hatred being poured out over the child using the term “Papa” is amazing. It shows the depth of your political debate that this matters to you.
    By the way, is this this the same Nick Clegg that AC, Mandy and Brown spent the week after the election prostituting themselves to, in an abortive attempt to cling on to power at any price? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!
    If the Coalition ever get their act together, you utter lack of direction, policy and vision will consign Labour to the history books

  • Richard

    PS Your bigotry and rascism shine through your posting. Anti European term for father, and anti Catholic. You really are a credit to your cause.

  • ambrosian

    The Tory Simon Jenkins makes the same point that I was making about Clegg in his Guardian column today (not the light-hearted ‘Papa’ jibe though). He says: “never mention the children’s question: “Daddy, why does everyone hate you?” It suggests that everyone does hate you, that the playground mafia is on message, and that you probably should have stuck to market gardening.”
    However, he is much ruder about Clegg than a soft old leftie like myself could ever be. “A blind date and a one-night stand, David Cameron’s coalition arm-candy” is a sexual metaphor that I prefer not to have in my head.

  • Dave Simons

    Excuse me but I can’t see anything in Ambrosian’s post which smacks of bigotry and racism. In fact I don’t think racism, in terms of the relationship between the English and the Spanish, has ever had any relevance. Both practised racism against other people but not against themselves. As for bigotry I can’t see why this expression of opinion should be characterised as bigoted. Frankly I don’t care what Clegg’s son calls his dad, but I know what I would call him. As for the ‘credit to your cause’, I doubt if Richard knows what that cause is any more than I do,.

  • Gilliebc

    Richard, usually you make good well thought out and well written comments, some of which I occasionly agree with and even “like”
    But I don’t understand your 2 comments to ambrosian on this page. I’ve read your comments carefully and also re-read ambrosian’s comments and I just can’t figure out why you used words such as “bigotry, racism,
    bile and hatred in relation to ambrosian’s largely light-hearted comments.
    To be honest, these comments coming from you, I’m a bit shocked.
    But, more than that I am just puzzled. What if anything have I missed in ambrosian’s comments?

  • I would like to congratulate you Mr Campbell on the way you handled your pupils on C4’s Dream School. I work for a social enterprise company and one of our main objectives is getting people back into education, training and ultimately employment. Watching the programme, I could relate to so many of the issues you came up against. I found the way that certain situations were handled by yourself (and your teacher colleagues) inspiring and hope to transfer some of the points made into my workplace.

  • Alan

    I hear that you used the deram school visit to slag off the Government. Quite expected that the big EGO would use the visit for his own end and not fot the children. All about Mr Campbell