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The tentacles of the Octopus Chancellor are all over this reshuffle

By Paul Goodman
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George Osborne wanted to move Iain Duncan Smith from Work and Pensions, and failed.  Ken Clarke was moved to take up a roving economic brief, thus gaining a licence to meddle in the Chancellor's affairs.  The reshuffle even brought some distressing family news: Lord Howell, Mr Osborne's father in law, has been moved from his Foreign Office job to make way for Sayeeda Warsi.  The Chancellor must steel himself for some lengthy familial exchanges about how difficult the post will be for a tyro.  And David Cameron's transport gambit provoked a blast of the trumpet from Mr Osborne's leadership rival, Boris Johnson.

No wonder the Chancellor was written up as a loser from yesterday's events. But this broad assessment is undermined by the reshuffle's details.  Mr Osborne has been portrayed on this site and elsewhere as the Submarine Chancellor, surfacing only to make carefully controlled interventions before plunging back into the depths of the Treasury.  Something about him clearly attracts marine metaphors, since he can also be imagined as an octopus, with tentacles reaching out to manipulate even the more obscure parts of Westminster and Whitehall.  Yesterday's moves saw them extended even further. Consider:

  • Business.  Mr Cameron doesn't dare move Vince Cable.  But the Chancellor wants more to be done to fire growth - especially over deregulation.  So into the Department stride Michael Fallon and Matt Hancock, the latter a key Osborne ally and his former Chief of Staff, to get medieval on the Business Secretary's backside: given the way their appointments are being written up they are clearly the Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega of the shuffle.  Let's go to work!
  • CLG.  The Treasury's institutional bias is to grab the green belt, cover it will houses, and grab the tax receipts; CLG's is to listen to the mass ranks of true blue Middle England Conservative councillors and stop it happening.  So into the department parachutes Nick Boles to replace Greg Clark - and square the circle by covering the landscape with new homes while keeping those councillors happy.  Mr Boles is a clever fellow, but this is a testing mission.
  • Transport.  The Chancellor believes that Team Cameron made a big mistake, in retrospect, by ruling out a third runway for Heathrow.  So out goes Justine Greening and in comes Patrick McLoughlin: once a junior Minister in the department under John Major, Mr McLoughlin was first shuffled, then fired...and now returns to the Department in glory, riding in triumph through Persepolis: the Chief Whip is the Comeback Kid.  Aided and abetted by his old friend, Simon Burns, he's there to deliver what Mr Osborne wants.
  • Work and Pensions.  Iain Duncan Smith is deeply committed to the Universal Credit and fights his department's budget corner.  The Chancellor wanted to replace him with Chris Grayling, and turn the latter's details-friendly mind to mastering the credit's cost while also delivering £10 billion worth of Departmental savings.  But the Work and Pensions Secretary wouldn't move. Foiled! But into the Department goes Treasury man Mark Hoban to squirrel out the money. Osborne fights back!
  • The Whips Office.  The Chancellor has long wanted to ensure that Mr McLoughlin's replacement was as much his man as Mr Cameron's.  He likes Andrew Mitchell's style, Mr Mitchell likes his, and the two bonded when respectively running the Cameron and David Davis leadership campaigns.  Greg Hands, the Chancellor's former PPS, is expected to remain in the Whips Office.  Mark Francois, a former member of the Chancellor's Opposition team, is expected to move out and into a Ministry. Defence (with an eye on costs)?

And at the Treasury itself Mr Osborne has gone for intellectual firepower by bringing in Greg Clark as Financial Secretary and promoting Sajid Javid, his very able PPS, as e Economic Secretary.  The Chancellor's reach extends even to childcare: he and Liz Truss have similar views on childcare for working women.  The Chancellor may have been booed at the Olympics, he may have lost the confidence of Tory backbenchers (though they are a mercurial lot), and Boris may be on his case, but the tentacles of the Octopus Chancellor are everywhere. Run, run for your lives!


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