Monday, 7 October 2013

A rare reshuffle..

Good morning. It's a testament to David Cameron's aversion to reshuffles that Westminster has got itself excited about today's likely reorganisation of ministerial middle ranks. Let's face it, it's not that exciting. But Mr Cameron doesn't hold reshuffles often, so it has novelty value. Some say he hates whacking people; others make a virtue of the stability his reluctance to shift the deckchairs brings to the operation. Fairer to say that the Prime Minister's patronage no longer extends very far, and that the 2010 intake has shown it isn't impressed by the blandishments of office. He recognises that reshuffles are opportunities that shouldn't be wasted, and has -  admirably - eschewed the temptation to rely on them to generate positive headlines when things are difficult. It's all systems go for today's announcements, but final decision will be taken at the 8.30 meeting.
Last night we had the pre-emptive departures: John Randall, respected and liked, stands down as the unsung workhorse of the Whips' Office. Chloe Smith resigned after a brief and inglorious tenure at the Cabinet Office. The line is she wrote to Mr Cameron a few weeks ago asking to be released. Francis Maude has let it be known he's sorry to see her go, having admired her effectiveness on cyber security. There may be more stories like this one: departures dressed up as voluntary, expressions of regret. Best to keep in mind Enoch Powell's line about all political careers ending in failure. Today's exercise is being described as a 'flat cap reshuffle' that will favour northern voices, women, and those earmarked for Cabinet. In that latter category look out for Esther McVey and Sajid Javid. Other names being passed around: Kris Hopkins and Jane Ellison. The relentless Matt Hancock will be given more to do. Will the reshuffle help Mr Cameron? It could reinforce the disgruntlement on the backbenches by adding to the supply of those with a grudge for being dismissed, or for being ignored. But it may also reinforce the loyalty of those in the 2010 intake who believe they owe their success to his. Above all, Mr Cameron hopes it will allow him to demonstrate that his government is more than a collection of posh southern blokes.
Adam Afriyie's announcement that he would has tabled an amendment to James Wharton's EU referendum bill calling for the referendum to be in October 2014 has not gone down well with the Tories: yesterday a series of Eurosceptic MPs, including Mr Wharton, Zac Goldsmith, Sarah Wollaston and Conor Burns came out to denounce the idea, much to the relief of Dave's camp. Mr Afriyie insisted that he was being "completely loyal" to Dave but the PM's team think rather differently. And they may be nervous about Labour's reaction, with former minister Tom Watson already saying he will support it in the FT. It will be intriguing to see what Ed Miliband does next: while he remains firmly in favour of staying in the EU, senior Labour figures are pointing out that supporting an early referendum could cause civil war on the Tory benches. Ed can only remains "Zen-like" about Europe for so long. The EU bill has the potential to expose the serious splits on the issue that exist in both main parties.
Speaking on the Today programme, Mr Afriyie said the amendment "strengthens the Prime Minister's hand and above all its in the national interests to do it". Mr Wharton said the PM's plan was "the right timeframe" to renegotiate and that a future Parliament would have to repeal his act to prevent a referendum in 2017. He also said that the amendment could undermine the "very fragile" bill altogether.
Labour are planning a reshuffle too, and it could actually by more interesting that the Conservatives' offering. The most interesting dilemma for Mr Miliband concerns Andy Burnham. He is fighting for his political life, as his article in today's Mirror - telling Jeremy Hunt to "put up or shut up" over "smears", and even threatening legal action - indicates. The suggestion is that Ed was considering swapping Mr Burnham and Yvette Cooper, but Mr Burnham will no go easily - and, by upping the ante with Mr Hunt, he will make Labour reluctant to give the Tories a scalp.
Other key names to look out for include Stephen Twigg and Liam Byrne, both of whom have struggled against their counterparts (Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith). Mr Byrne is particularly interesting because, for all his difficulties, he recognises that the Tories' jibes of Labour as "the welfare party" pose a real risk, and has quietly been signing up his party to IDS flagships like the benefit cap and the Universal Credit. Moving Mr Byrne could see Labour shift further left on welfare. Expect Rachel Reeves to continue her ascent, while other women including Stella Creasy and Liz Kendall should also rise.
Nigel Farage has said that he is considering standing against Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe, in 2015. Mr Collins is regarded as a rising Tory star and is defending a 10,112 majority. Earlier in the weekend, there were rumours that Mr Farage would take on Laura Sandys in South Thanet, the seat in which he stood in 2005.
Huge demand is expected for Royal Mail shares when they are privatised, with analysts at Panmure Gordon saying the shares will be worth £4.5 billion on the market, well in excess of the current upper valuation of £3.3 billion. The flotation is expected to be heavily over-subscribed. Alan Johnson has accused the Government of "ripping off the taxpayer on an epic scale" and Chuka Umunna has said that he has written to Vince Cable urging him "to pull the plug" on the privatisation before tomorrow night's deadline. Another significant piece of business news is that George Osborne is seeking clearing from Brussels to split RBS, as the FT reports.
A common theme in today's papers is politicians have lots of ideas for how to make life cheaper for those that need it. So we have George Osborne's big plan to use fracking to reduce environmental levies in bills (though, as ever, he needs to circumvent an Ed Davey-sized barrier). Then there's the Boris plan in his Telegraph column: employees who are basic rate taxpayers should be allowed to pay for their season tickets from their pre-tax income. As you may expect, Ed Miliband has a rather different idea and uses an interview with the Indy to attack "vested interests" and the relationship between the leading energy companies and David Cameron. The Indy's analysis finds that ministers have met with the 'Big Six' 128 times since 2010.
Margaret Thatcher intended to appoint Cecil Parkinson as foreign secretary in 1983 - and groom him as her successor - until he told her about his 12-year affair with his secretary. You can read more here.
Remember Katherine Birbalsingh? The teacher who lost her job after criticising state education for its "culture of excuses" at the Conservative Party conference in 2010 has won her three year battle to open a free school. The Michaela Community School (MCS) is set to launch in Wembley Park, Brent, in September 2014 as the Indy reports.
Yep, Liam Fox really did claim 3p in expenses for a 97-metre car journey.
Kevin Brennan asks:
@KevinBrennanMP: It appears there are now no Tory Whips left from the 2010 office - a record?
In the Telegraph 
Best of the rest
Financial Times leader - Welfare reform will not work alone

Last day of recess for the Commons and Lords. All eyes will be on the Conservative and Labour reshuffles.