15 Jul 2014

Cabinet reshuffle: Gove clipped, women in

George Osborne has been quite fixated by the chief whip role and how it can be important in shaping a post 2015 leadership contest.

Michael Gove is his most ardent and committed supporter. But this is grim reward for an ally and a bit baffling as an appointment.

Mr Gove made no secret he wanted to stay put. There are few serious votes expected left to whip so it is a bit of a “non-job.” How much media will he do when the Tories’ own polling suggests he’s toxic with floating voters?

It looks like a severe clipping of wings if not a poisoned bird pellet. And like much else in the reshuffle it looks like it is governed by focus groups. Mr Gove was loathed by many teachers. The reaction in staff rooms was breath-taking. Today it will be ecstatic.

Read more: Cabinet reshuffle: William Hague quits

As I stand in the sunshine outside Downing Street watching newly promoted women ministers walk past I can picture the confusion in Brussels. They are waiting for the second boot to drop. They think the reshuffle was all about freeing up someone to work in the European Commission… but then Brussels and London have a long tradition of misunderstandings.

The latest hot money is on Michael Howard to move to Brussels. There’s a growing possibility I’m told that Wednesday’s summit could be the moment that the entire commission slots into place … though it could also still be a minimalist “was your journey really necessary?” summit.

Read more: Ken Clarke may be dispensable – but don’t expect him to go quietly

Why Mr Howard? The government is neurotic about another by-election. Newark, with super-human effort, worked a treat, boosting morale and making Tory MPs think that the unthinkable (getting back into power) might just be possible. Another go at the same trick might set back that progress and divert effort. Besides, the duumvirate “owe” Mr Howard for keeping David Davis out and handing on the succession to the “modernisers.” “It’s quite Sicilian in there,” one Tory MP said of the No.11/No.10 power axis.

Late rumours it could be Jonathan Hill, Leader of the Lords. Either way, definitely no by-election.


There are special arrangements for this reshuffle I’ve never seen before. An aide or 2 wait in the street to greet the promoted minister and guide them in (it’s really not hard to find in Downing Street) to No. 10. A minibus with smoked windows then whisks them – all women so far – off to their new ministry so they don’t run the gauntlet of us lot with cameras standing at the gates.

I suspect a grand, choreographed photo opportunity is being crafted.

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