The list of Cabinet ministers who have been tipped for the chop is not a short one. At various times in 2011 Caroline Spelman, Liam Fox, Ken Clarke, Vince Cable, Chris Huhne and Andrew Lansley have all been anointed as the leading candidate to win (or lose) the sack race. Through a mixture of disagreements, policy unpopularity or alleged wrongdoing, there have been strong arguments as to why all of them may have been shuffled out of the Cabinet somewhat more hastily than they were brought in.
Of course some of these ministers (and indeed their colleagues) may only be one bad headline, gaffe or policy slip away from a new career, and writing this blog probably guarantees that something bad will happen to someone, but David Cameron has proved to be remarkably resistant to shuffling his ministerial pack. There are five reasons why.
Reason 1: Cameron values stability. Even in opposition, he rarely shuffled his shadow ministerial team, instead leaving them in place to learn the brief, get to know the stakeholders and hopefully land some blows on their opposite numbers. This hasn’t changed now they have control of the red boxes.
Reason 2: Reshuffles are difficult. You only have to have observed a Tony Blair reshuffle in action to realise that moving ministers around never goes smoothly. It only takes one minister to refuse to go where they are told and the best laid plans will go to waste. There is a reason why companies spend many months planning changes to senior level structures and, when you are dealing with political-sized egos, the risk of something not going to plan is significant.
Reason 3: Coalition politics make reshuffles a precarious balancing act. Who gets what is a significant statement (again, think of the signal it sent when Blair shifted the balance from Brownites to Blairites or vice versa and now imagine what it would be like with two parties involved). The Liberal Democrats of course have a smaller parliamentary pool to draw from and the feeling is that (at least on the Conservative side) that they are not well blessed with Cabinet-level talent. Remember: get rid of one Lib Dem and you have to find another to replace him (and there are no female Lib Dem cabinet ministers). On top of this, there will be Cabinet posts where the Lib Dem side of the Coalition will only tolerate certain Conservatives (think Justice and probably Health). Would the Prime Minister really want to open all this up now?
Reason 4: There is more dirty work to be done. With the full impact of the cuts to public expenditure still to be felt and many of the Government’s reforms still in controversial stages, there is a strong argument to leave incumbents in place to take the political heat. Why tarnish another set of ministers, when you will need fresh faces to take the argument to the electorate in a few years time?
Reason 5: Where there is a policy disagreement, the Prime Minister is implicated. Many on the right will argue that the Prime Minister, or at least the Downing Street machine, bears some of the responsibility for the policy problems ministers have encountered. Getting rid of them could be tantamount to accepting this. In any case, if there were to be policy victims, then it is hard to see how those who have committed gaffes or worse could be allowed to survive. Does the Prime Minister really want to lose close to a third of his Cabinet before the first parliamentary session is out?
For these reasons, the Prime Minister will not move ministers for the time being – he has said as much in the Sun. As ever, events could intervene, but Cameron will do all he can to avoid being forced into a reshuffle – and for good reasons