4 Sep 2012

Cameron’s reshuffle is for finishers, not visionaries

When David Cameron met Iain Duncan Smith last night he told him that he wanted him to deploy the visionary creative genius he’d shown at DWP at the Department of Justice.┬áThe suggestion was that Ken Clarke hadn’t been that creative there with prisons policy.

Privately, David Cameron and George Osborne have talked of how IDS is “a starter, not a finisher”, of how welfare might need a different person to implement, drive forward and sell the policies. The idea was that would be IDS’s deputy, Chris Grayling. But IDS’s refusal to budge left David Cameron having to put Chris Grayling into the justice ministry.

Others will see this as David Cameron and George Osborne showing their frustration with IDS over his unwillingness to consider some hard-hitting reforms they want to layer on top of the universal credit to rake back billions more from the DWP budget. Anyway, the end result is that IDS said no. The reshuffle, the great moment for Prime Ministers to exercise their power, has shown this prime mininster’s power to be quite circumscribed.

If IDS could’ve heard the conversation between David Cameron and Andrew Lansley he might heard a variation on the same theme. Lansley, the PM feels, has been a bit of visionary on NHS reform but is not the man to see it through and sell it.

Andrew Lansley, who often told anyone who would listen that he wouldn’t accept any other job in government, then did excactly what he said he wouldn’t do – he’s the new leader of the House of Commons. I’m told that David Nicholson, chief executive of the NHS, was overheard recently saying that, without Andrew Lansley, the NHS process could be slowed down and spread out – exactly what Andrew Lansley would most worry about.

Where it all goes next now falls to Jeremy Hunt. It would be fascinating to know if the PM told him to go “full steam ahead” on reforms when he offered him the job or “ease up a bit.”

Theresa Villiers’ appointment to Northern Ireland Secretary rewrites one of the rules of political promotion. Rule no. 43 says: if you don’t get a job you want, don’t have an angry rant at the boss about it as you will blot your chances of getting anything in the future.

But that, according to a number of sources, is how Theresa Villiers reacted to Justine Greening’s promotion to the cabinet last year, complaining directly and angrily to David Cameron’s face. On this occasion, it’s brought a reward but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else who gets disappointed today.

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