Bruce Anderson: Warsi - Dorries in a headscarf. David Jones - a good egg. Herbert - diddums. Bercow - wretched, snivelling, grovelling, worthless and contemptible. My thoughts on the reshuffle.
At the risk of sounding aged, dull, blase, boring and complacent, I have been scrutinising Conservative resuffles for more than thirty years. Yet there is still excitement: still meat on the joint. This one had two unique features. First, there were no leaks. That is remakable, given the need to consult Nick Clegg. Normally, the Liberal Democrats - so unaccustomed to government - leak anything and everything. Is it possible that they are now learning political maturity? (Surely not).
The lack of leaks had a further consequence. By Monday, the lobby journalists were not just ill-tempered. They were feral. This influenced the coverage. Most papers were determined to be negative: to see plots, conspiracies and malign intent. They devoted a lot of frustration and ingenuity, in order to miss the obvious point. This was not an ideological reshuffle. It was a pragmatic one. In general, the Prime Minister sought to promote those who had earned a higher rank and to encourage promising youngsters, especially women. Promotions mean dismissals. Few PMs enjoy butchery, and this one is no exception. He tried to concentrate on those who had already enjoyed a reasonable innings; even so, some good men and women have every reason to feel hurt.
Life is unfair; politics, trebly so. Ministerial office is not a career. You serve at the PM's pleasure, which is a fickle jade. Eventually, unless the electorate dismisses the entire government, you are likely to be sacked with less notice than a cleaning-woman. So there is only one way to behave. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy: take pleasure in your office while you have it. Do your work to the best of your abilities. But do not invest your soul in ministeriality. When the day comes for the summons to No.10, and you hope against hope that it is for promotion, until you see how embarrassed the PM is looking - then just put him at his ease, say how much fun you have had, and stride out into the future with your head held high.
It is excellent that the PM has rewarded some long-serving ex-ministers with knighthoods. Others may look forward to future Honours' Lists. But not only knighthoods: anyone who values decency in public life should be delighted that George Young has been made a Companion of Honour. In a sensible world, Sir George would have left the front-bench three years ago, to become Speaker of the Commons, instead of the wretched, snivelling, grovelling, worthless, contemptible Bercow. Instead, he has been a thoroughly sound Leader of the House.
Not only that: the Leader of the Commons usually ranks just below the great offices of state. Yet George was not even a full member of the Cabinet. He fell on his sword because David Cameron had too many Cabinet Ministers. It was always likely that he would go this time, simply because his job was needed for someone else; in the event, Andrew Lansley. That was one change which had no damned merit in it. Does anyone think that Andrew Lansley will be half as good as Sir George? Anyway, the latter is now a CH, an award which might be thought superfluous, when conferred on a man who already exemplified honour.
Not everyone behaved so honourably. Nick Herbert has one outstanding quality. In the proper sense of the word, he is an aficionado; he enjoys bull-fighting. I can only think of one other Tory politician who is as committed to that magnificent, life-enhancing spectacle: Tristan Garel-Jones (in his case, 'Tory' may be a misnomer: he is sound on nothing else). Although Mr Herbert had been in the Shadow Cabinet, he became a victim of the Coalition, and had to make do with being a Minister of State - and a Privy Counsellor. He took that badly: diddums. Now, still unpromoted, he has resigned: no loss. The rumour is that he will leave politics. The truth is that he was never properly in politics.
Chris Grayling was another former member of the Shadow Cabinet who did not make the real one in 2010 because of the need to find places for Liberals. Since then, he has shown how a sound politician should respond to disappointment: work. Over the past two years, he was won respect and admiration. The same is true of Grant Shapps. Those two stalwarts have found the proper route to promotion: earn it.
Another promotiee worth more notice than
he has received is David Jones, to be Welsh Secretary. In Wales, the
Tories are on the advance: eight seats and several juicy marginals. Mr
Jones is a sound fellow, and it is long since time that the party had a
Welshman in that office. As he finds his feet and his confidence, he
will be a shrewd voice round the cabinet table.
All these worthy characters inevitably invite the contrast.
There is someone who attained rapid promotion without any preliminary hard graft: Sayeeda Warsi. Over the past couple of years, she had gone a long way towards confounding the sceptics, until her recent public sulking and emotional blackmail. She has behaved like Nadine Dorries in a headscarf. Despite the need to incorporate minorities, she should have been sacked. After the way in which she behaved, who is going to take her seriously?
Apart from the departures, there was one inevitable disappointment in this reshuffle. Recent rebels cannot be promoted, so the splendid ninety-one who stood out against the absurd Lords' Reform Bill have all been back-squadded. This means nothing for Jesse Norman, Nadhim Zahawi, Penny Mordaunt, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Rory Stewart and a host of other deserving characters. If you are ever tempted to feel gloomy about the Tory party's future, look at that list of rebel names. It is a roll of honour. Reading through it is like drinking a glass of champagne.
Some good men did not rebel. One new Tory MP started his Parliamentary career with a double handicap. He was pro-European, and he was Boris Johnson's brother. Fortunately, Jo Johnson is young enough and sensible enough to realise that the world has changed. He has no desire to follow Ken Clarke and become the second last of the Eu-hicans. He also differs from his brother, in that he has intellectual staying-power and moral depth. Mr - Jo - Johnson should be taken seriously. He is now a Whip: an excellent training-school.
That brings us to the second unique aspect of this shuffle. Whips are rarely sacked. Although they may not last long as Parly Secs, they are usually given a couple of years. This time, five went, most notably Brooks Newmark, who always seemed a much more plausible Treasury Minister than Chloe Smith. But the whirligig of time brings its compensations. In the 1990s, Greg Knight was a first-rate Whip. He has now been recalled to the Office while Mark Francois, more recently an excellent Whip. has become a Minister of State.
No reshuffles are perfect. In the nature of things, they always inflict disappointment on those who do not deserve it. My old friend Alan Watkins always reminded us that politics was a rough old trade. This weekend, fine men and women will know what he meant. Others, mainly youngsters, whose time seems to have come, will banish that bleak thought from their minds. Their time will come.