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Tuesday, July 15, 2014 

All you need is Gove.

Government reshuffles are always over-analysed and often pointless affairs, especially in terms of what it means for the departments ministers are being shuttled between. You can take the view that moving someone from say their position as culture secretary, one of the more undemanding jobs, to being plunged in at education is damn stupid considering the level of expertise we should expect of those given the role, or you could instead reason that as the civil service does the bulk of the work anyway, given the outline by the minister, it doesn't really make much odds.

What certainly is cretinous in this instance is having a major reshuffle this late into a parliament.  While David Cameron has at least refused the Blair tendency to move everyone around every poxy year, the only reason our dear PM is getting rid of so many on the liberal wing of the Tories while at the same time promoting as many loyal women as he can is for party political and presentational reasons respectively.  It's certainly not because Nicky Morgan will be a better education secretary than Michael Gove, although it's difficult to imagine how anyone barring a resurrected King Herod could be any worse, it's down to how Cameron has judged Gove to have become too much of an electoral liability in his current job.  Therefore he's absolutely the right man to be the "face" of the Conservatives in the media (is this right? Ed.).

No, me neither.  Gove's demotion will undoubtedly be presented by his allies in the media as the ultimate example of someone being a victim of their own success.  Sadly, there's also more than an element of truth in it.  Compare Gove's ramming through of the expansion of academies and setting up of free schools to Iain Duncan Smith's catastrophic attempt to introduce universal credit, and judged purely on that basis it's bewildering how the latter is still in his job.  Unlike IDS though, who has merely got into scrapes with George Osborne over whether or not he's a bit thick, Gove managed to piss everyone off at some point.  Not all his own work, with some of it being the responsibility of his just as combative former SpAd Dominic Cummings, most recently seen describing Dave as a "sphinx without a riddle", it's now time to take the battle to the other parties rather than your colleagues.  Hence Gove, although bruised, is apparently content to become chief whip and chief TV/radio mug.  Why those who didn't like him as education secretary will suddenly discover him to be charming and persuasive in his new role isn't clear, but it must all be part of Lynton Crosby's grand plan.

Also integral to Crosby's barnacle-shedding scheme is trying to end the impression Dave has a problem with women.  Rather than, err, change the policies women disproportionately oppose, far better is to promote a few more women to defend them, a ploy guaranteed to work just as well.  Apart from Morgan, also getting an office of state is Liz Truss, taking over as environment secretary from right-winger Owen Paterson, which predictably and despite all the other changes has still elicited moans from the headbangers.  Truss you might recall was the minister pushing for the ratio of young children an adult could look after safely to be increased, only for it to run into opposition from that other coalition, Mumsnet and Nick Clegg.  Esther McVey, once of GMTV, stays in her job but gets to attend cabinet, while Penny Mordaunt is rewarded for appearing on Splash! by becoming the first coastal communities minister.  Any suggestion the introduction of yet another ministerial post is designed to further reduce rebelling is cynicism of the lowest order.  Best to gloss over the rise of Priti Patel, lest I start to feel the urge to repeatedly slam my head against the wall.

Out then went a whole bunch of older white men, much to the discomfort of those older white men in charge of the country's newspapers.  Describing Ken Clarke as middle-aged as the Mail's front page did is also a bit of a stretch, although you have to remember Paul Dacre is determined to see off any attempt to retire him as the paper's editor, and he's 9 years Clarke's junior.  More pertinent is Clarke, Dominic Grieve, Damian Green, David Willetts and Alan Duncan have all gone, all of whom were dovish on Europe or liberal in outlook generally.  Along with Gove, the new foreign secretary Philip Hammond said he would vote to leave an unreformed EU, while the loss of Clarke, Grieve and Green suggests, as anticipated, the Tory manifesto will propose leaving the European Convention on Human Rights altogether.

The Conservatives seem convinced it will be the messengers as much as the message that will make the difference in 10 months' time.  Long-term economic plan; Miliband weird and not prime ministerial; and look at how completely normal and representative your fun, go-getting Tories now are.  It ignores how the Tories failed to win in 2010 on a centre-right but not right-wing manifesto, as the fresh-faced alternative to the disastrous tenure of the son of the Manse.  Regardless of the polls occasionally showing a Tory lead or the difference being within the margin of error, there's still nothing to suggest as yet they can win the election outright.  If this reshuffle was one of the first steps in an effort to alter that, the party seems set again on deluding itself.

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