Henry Forth writes from Westminster: Prime Minister David Cameron is off on his summer hols. He says that even politicians need holidays and anyway, it’s just a couple of weeks. He’ll be back for the Paralympics and then the following week, it’s the start of the new parliamentary term.
But it will not be a complete switch off for Cameron. He has to think hard about a Cabinet reshuffle.
Past PMs have shuffled their political deck in the summer so that ministers can read into their portfolios before Parliament returns. His biggest problem is behaving like a PM and ignoring every pressure group including Nick Clegg’s increasingly mundane LibDem MPs. Cameron carries the burden of power-sharing.
Number 10 has to negotiate with his coalition partner and although the LibDems have 50 or so seats in the Commons, they punch above their weight which, in most cases, is no heavier than welter. That is frustrating for Cameron but Clegg insists on his right to approve any changes Cameron might make.
Apart from the political grip that gives Clegg, it also shuts up some of the LibDems who feel their natural ally (in truth, a non sequitur in the LibDem lexicon) would have been Labour. LibDems are supposed to be radicals and they see that Cameron is shifting his Toryism to the Right.
But that’s instinct and Tory juxtaposition. LibDems have a bone to pick with their leader as well as Cameron. They feel mad because of the Tory failure to twist enough backbench arms to put through the Lords Reform preliminary bill. That gripe is not going away when the Commons returns. Shuffling a Cabinet could take some of the heat off Number 10.
So to the changes. Will the Tory’s biggest beast Justice Secretary Ken Clarke be dropped? Many Tory backbenchers want him to spend more time with his jazz collection and real ale labels. He doesn’t want to go and if it were suggested that he could best slip along the corridor to the Upper House, he would resist.
Why do some want him out? Too liberal they say. Too much of the past. Also, because this is a coalition government the Tories have fewer ministerial jobs. And many of that group resent the quality of LibDems in some of the ministerial cars. Moreover, they suspect that David Laws, the LibDem ex-minister who had to resign over his parliamentary expenses, will be brought back – even if it’s only as a Minister of State but with a place in the cabinet.
And what about the sad figure of Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, who was too close to the Murdochs during the Sky bidding rounds? Best dump him. And while he’s doing that Cameron could break up the ministry itself and farm out its lesser parts to other departments.
However, Cameron’s first decision does not touch the LibDem sensitivities. He will probably look for a new chairman of his Party, getting rid of the not very effective Lady Warsi who recently has come to the attention of the guardians of the House of Lords Code of Conduct. Party chairmen may not sound such a big deal other than that they have perfect stomach linings for consuming dreadful local Tory Party chicken lunches. But by the time of the next Tory Party conference, Cameron will need the best manager possible to shield him from the Party faithful charge that he is losing them ground in the polls.
He wants a popular figure who can ring the handbell of Tory politics that the late Quentin Hailsham did decades ago. Now there’s a thought: step up Ken Clarke.
What would be a brilliant shuffle would be to bring in people from outside.
How about Annie Lennox as the long promised Minister for Women? Russell Brand Minister for Culture because he has none. Bob Diamond as Chancellor because he can work the system at a profit? The Home Office would get Slasher Martin (as soon as he’s out) because he’s on first name terms with most of the South London villains and magistrates.
Justice Department could go to John Bird in his character of barrister Fuller-Carp because he’s most people’s image of m’learned friend.
That leaves one replacement. Cameron himself could step aside. Who instead? No contest: Mark Rylance because in whatever character he is, from Rooster Byron in Jerusalem or Richard III, Rylance is an utterly compelling character – which is what we need as Prime Minister before Boris gets the gig.