I read speculation in the press about a Ministerial reshuffle. I think Mr Cameron has been wise not to hold an early one, or to make them annual events. Ministers need to time to master their brief and to learn to work well with their departments. For everyone a Prime Minister makes happy by promoting, he makes another miserable by sacking them.
Clearly Mr Cameron is aware of the difficulties of managing the party and the expectations of many MPs when he does not have a majority and when Lib Dems take a larger share of the Ministerial posts than their Parliamentary strength would justify on its own, to ensure they have representation in every department.
Some people have been briefing the press that there will be a September reshuffle, but only Conservative MPs who have always voted with the government will be considered for promotion. Some have also suggested that there could be a further reshuffle before the 2015 scheduled General Election.
In the past Prime Ministers have appointed a mixture of loyalists and more independently minded people to government. The old idea was that a government needed to reflect the broad forces of opinion within the governing party and in turn in the wider country. Margaret Thatcher appointed “wets” to her Cabinet though she disagreed with them. They did vote against her when not on the payroll. Tony Blair invited Gordon Brown to be Chancellor, only to see him running a domestic government within the wider government, and building a Brown faction within the Labour party. Both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair appointed some rebels to the government. John Major appointed Michael Heseltine to prominent roles, knowing he wanted to be Leader. They took the view that they needed to listen and argue with some they disagreed with, around the Ministerial table.It also meant those particular rebels had to vote for the agreed government line once it was settled. What is the point of a Cabinet if all agree on the main issues of the day?
Mr Cameron has a particular problem in managing the votes and ambitions of the 2010 intake. As this accounts for half the Conservative Parliamentary party, it is a very large voting group. The government has expected loyalty from them, because they are new and because many of them have legitimate ambitions for office in due course. It has not worked out quite like this, with many of the best of the new intake of Conservative MPs showing early independence of mind and spirit, and voting against the government on important issues like the EU, a referendum, and Lords reform.
I think it is a strange idea that the possibility of office can buy the full support of most MPs. People come into politics with views and campaigns in mind. They wish to represent their constituents, and to stay true to promises they made their electors. They are swayed by argument and by policy circumstance. The best way for the government to get its business through is not by offering possible jobs at some unspecified time in the future, but by adopting popular policies and persuading MPs to vote for them on their merits. The main reason this government is at odds with many Conservative backbenchers is its refusal to demand a new relationship with the EU. If they would change that they could make the Conservative party much happier with its leadership.
There is another reason why the patronage approach to party management is difficult to make work in this Parliament. The reduced number of Ministerial posts available to Conservative MPs is compounded by the government’s stated policy of a substantial increase in the number of women Ministers. Bright men MPs can do the sums, and see they have little chance of preferment. If preferment is a constraint on free thinking and independent voting for some, the poor arithmetic of gaining it offsets this feeling.
I would be interested in your thoughts on a reshuffle and the composition of the government, but please do not write in about me as I have no wish for this to be about me.