“Well if it doesn’t happen, no one will ever remember we predicted it would.” Those were the words with which I signed off an interview on LBC on Friday after I had put to Sam my prediction that William Hague would leave the Cabinet in the reshuffle. And so it came to pass. I have to say last night was a bit of a rollercoaster. On the train back to Tonbridge I saw a tweet from Nick Robinson predicting a big name would be leaving the Cabinet. “It’s Hague”, I tweeted back to him. And then Twitter and the world of political journalism went a bit crazy. The Mail Online’s Matt Chorley ran an article purely based on that one tweet. They reckoned it must be true because no one had denied it. “Christ,” I thought. If this doesn’t happen I’m going to have a lot of egg on my face. Then I heard Sky say that they would be crossing to Number Ten at 10pm for a major announcement. “Stay cool,” I thought. This could be it. And it was. “Phew”.
The truth is, I had predicted it in my ConHome Diary column back on June 13th and on this blog yesterday morning. Well, when I say predicted, floated the idea may be more accurate. I hadn’t had any tip off, all I did was sniff the political wind. I just felt Hague might have had enough and might allow one of the big offices of state to be freed up. I certainly hadn’t imagine Hague would stay in the Cabinet has Leader of the House and I certainly can’t quite see the point of it. What’s he going to achieve there. He will be a lame duck Leader from day one. Far better for him to have quit altogether.
The identity of his successor soon leaked and Philip Hammond will apparently be the new Foreign Secretary. This is an interesting appointment for a number of reasons. Firstly, at a time when EU negotiations are about to start he is certainly the most Eurosceptic holder of the post in history. his EU counterparts will note that he has said if there were a referendum tomorrow, he’d vote to leave. But his appointment is also interesting as he now joins George Osborne, Theresa May and Boris Johnson as likely successors to Cameron. Cameron is avoiding the mistake Margaret Thatcher made, and giving potential successors the chance to shine. In all likelihood, if the Tories win the next election, Hammond and Osborne are likely to swap jobs at some point, probably not immediately after the election.
Last night I dubbed this reshuffle the “Night of the Wrong Knives.” The sackings were ruthless in their execution, and were reminiscent of Harold Macmillan’s cull of ministers fifty years ago. Not that it benefited Macmillan in the long run. Cameron is known to be an admirer of Macmillan’s, but perhaps this was taking things too far.
Some of the sackings or (un)forced resignations didn’t come as a surprise. Others, however, seem inexplicable. Damian Green’s departure falls into that category – a highly competent minister, good media performer and original thinker who hasn’t really put a foot wrong. If competence counted for anything he’d be in the Cabinet. He is the Alistair Burt of this reshuffle – a universally popular minister who was flung overboard for no apparent reason. Why was David Jones sacked after only a year as Welsh Secretary? Has he actually done anything wrong? I can’t think of anything, although I am told Cameron thought he was too gobby in Cabinet. Hugh Robertson is another very competent minister who is leaving the Foreign Office. He was a huge success as Sports Minister – just contrast his record with the shambolic performance of the current incumbent. But she’s a woman, so she’ll be safe, no doubt.
Both law officers have gone – Dominic Grieve and Oliver Heald. Heald had only been back in government for a year and Grieve’s face never fitted with Cameron. They were at constant loggerheads over human rights, and his departure means that the roadblock to a new party policy on the European Convention on Human Rights can be crafted without regard to Grieve’s concerns.
The other cabinet departures were heavily predicted – Ken Clarke, Andrew Lansley and Owen Paterson. In addition Alan Duncan, David Willetts, Andrew Robothan, Greg Barker, Nick Hurd and Stephen Hammond all resigned or were sacked. So all in all, 14 middle aged white men were disposed of, with several more probably following in their wake today. It’s likely that more than half of them will be replaced by women from the 2010 intake. It seems equally clear that there will be few promotions for anyone elected before 2010.
In other news, I heard late last night that John Hayes is replacing Stephen Hammond at the Department of Transport. Words almost fail me. Personally I like John Hayes, but if ever there was a square peg in a round hole this appointment is one. One MP said to me that this was a “pissing in the tent” appointment. I think we all know what that means, and I reckon he is bang on.
I gave my other predictions in the post below so I won’t repeat them here. Apart from one. Adam Boulton and others are speculating that Grant Shapps is moving. My information is that is completely wrong and he will be staying as chairman right up to the election. He’s acted as a good lightning rod for Cameron and doesn’t mind taking flak even when the fault lies elsewhere – take those posters following the budget which were nothing to do with him, but he went on TV and took the rap like a the trooper that he is. He also gets on with Lynton Crosby, something which is vital for the holder of that post. Boulton tips Gove for the job. I think not. Can you imagine Gove and Crosby agreeing on a strategy? No, me neither.
Whatever happens, we are in for an interesting day.