16 Jul 2014

The Goves, Ken Clarke and Jean-Claude Juncker

I understand word has gone out to Mrs Gove to stop hitting the tweet button after a series of messages blurted out on Wednesday. They threatened to undermine the coordinated Gove/Cameron operation to minimise his pain at the reshuffle. They may have been triggered by the late realisation in the Gove household that the office of Chief Whip is technically not a Cabinet level job, involves a pay cut and is all too easily therefore reported as a “demotion.”


Tuesday’s reshuffle looks more and more like the work of a PM who will do anything and ruthlessly to win the election if that’s what his advisers recommend. What it doesn’t tell you is what David Cameron would want to do with that election victory … to what end are all these efforts? 

If you praise reformers like Michael Gove and Nick Boles (the highly controversial planning minister until yesterday) and urge them to do their worst against the forces of reaction and then, when the going gets tough, remove them from their jobs what are they and other modernisers to think?

As Mr Gove realised, there is no other game in town. Mr Cameron is the best leader modernisers can hope for even if he doesn’t quite get the zealotry of some of these acolytes.

The modernisers used to think (mainly still do) that he knows he needs their steeliness to give his political project a purpose. The proof, one Tory MP said, will come if Mr Cameron in re-elected and re-appoints the full-blown reformers he’s hiding for the next few months.

Ken Clarke has no sooner been retired than the PM’s begging a favour. No. 10 asked the former Cabinet minister to ring up Jean-Claude Juncker – he’s about the only person Mr Cameron knows on speaking terms with the newly confirmed European Commission president. He’s been asked to talk up Lord (Jonathan) Hill to his prospective new boss. The PM at PMQs emphasised that Baroness (Cathy) Ashton held the same job as Lord Hill before going to Brussels and so he jolly well deserved a good one too. Tonight’s summit may determine that (Germany and some other capitals want all the jobs signed off) or might not (Mr Juncker doesn’t).

In other bits of reshuffle gossip, there’s much astonishment that No. 10 thought it appropriate to send round the PM’s young PPS to offer Liam Fox a job as third in line at the FCO. If it wasn’t a premeditated insult someone seriously misjudged the former defence secretary who is “incandescent,” friends say.

As if the MPs left behind in Tuesday’s reshuffle weren’t fed up enough, No. 10 Political Section seems to have decided it would be a good day to post them a batch of letters complaining that they hadn’t been replying to constituents’ post. One MP was livid to get a rebuke from No. 10 who’d taken up an individual’s complaint that a series of letters to the MP hadn’t been answered. The MP said no such letters had ever been received and No. 10 should have better things to do.

UPDATE – 4pm

Baroness (Tina) Stowell has had a baptism of fire in her first session answering questions in the Lords as the newly appointed leader of that house. Peer after peer got up to say the House had been humiliated by the prime minister’s decision to make Baroness Stowell a “second division” minister visiting cabinet rather than a full-blown “first division” cabinet minister sitting as of right at the table.

Former Attorney General, Baroness (Patricia) Scotland called it a “constitutional outrage.” There was much language along similar lines from all sides of the Lords. Baroness Stowell stood her ground as said (I paraphrase) it didn’t matter. Peers said it most certainly did. She would be over-ruled by mightier ministers. She ignored all calls to go back to David Cameron and demand a promotion to a higher ranking.

You might think it irrelevant or comical as peers glowered across the chamber saying this must not stand. But this is a revising chamber that takes itself and its work extremely seriously.

Its members feel when their will is expressed – saying a civil rights restriction is wholly unacceptable or a benefit change unthinkable – there’s no point unless they have some clout.

Labour’s leader in the Lords, Baroness (Jan) Royall must’ve had clearance from the Labour leader’s office before she told the chamber that Labour would reverse the Cameron decision and make sure any Labour leader in the Lords sits as of right in the Cabinet.

Lord (Peter) Carrington was, the Lords were told, temporarily at least, not a full member of the cabinet when he sat as Lords Leader. Baroness Stowell might’ve pointed out that Andrew Lansley sat until yesterday as Leader of the Commons without a full cabinet seat and that didn’t do the standing of the Commons any harm.

Actually, in their mood this afternoon, it’s probably as well she didn’t try that one. Lords and ladies to a man and a women were adamant David Cameron must relent even if it means demoting someone else in the cabinet to non-cabinet rank.

She was asked if there was any precedent for the emergency solution to the other related problem which her appointment threw up. As a 2nd tier minister attending cabinet she gets a lower salary.

As she will be doing exactly the same job as her male predecessor that was a bit of howler which No. 10 tried to patch up by supplementing her salary with Conservative party funds.

That, she was told, was something normally only done for the highly political post of party chairman. Was it proper for other posts. Baroness Stowell said the propriety was being looked into, which sounded like things might change again.


Follow @garygibbonblog on Twitter

Tweets by @garygibbonc4