THE chancellor had a mixed reshuffle. First, the negatives. He wanted Iain Duncan Smith out of Work and Pensions, but the quiet man had his way. Osborne also winds up with Ken Clarke as a roving rival, licensed to speak about the economy; untameable and unabashed in voicing his views, whether or not they fit with the message of the day. Also, Clarke is able to boast a record as chancellor which compares favourably to that of the incumbent. It’s a perplexing outcome – one the leadership may not quite have thought through.
However, the reshuffle offers some long-term prospects of success for the chancellor and the economy. The new line-up sees some of the more rigorously right-wing, low-tax, deregulation-minded MPs move up, while more centrist mid-tier players move out. The 2010 parliamentary Conservative intake has had to wait longer for perks than its predecessors, and the reshuffle brought fewer rewards than normal, as the Lib Dems took a disproportionate share of the spoils. Nevertheless, Matt Hancock, Sajid Javid and Liz Truss have finally seen substantive Parliamentary progression. Albeit necessarily more obedient than others, they are fairly representative of their intake as a whole: bright, pretty Eurosceptic, independently minded free marketeers.
Osborne’s erstwhile parliamentary private secretary (PPS), Javid, was an investment banker who has called for tax cuts to encourage growth: he becomes economic secretary. I’ve seen him inspire free market audiences with his open calls for a much smaller state. The chancellor’s former chief of staff, Hancock, goes to Business Innovation and Skills as a PPS. A more disciplined supporter of the government line is hard to find, but he’s also well qualified and a believer in liberating business and individuals from onerous regulation and tax. Truss was a campaigning thinktanker, who has an admirable commitment to individual choice over state control.
Not everything went right. Mark Hoban’s replacement, former Social Democratic Party man Greg Clark, is wonkish and wise, but the extent to which he can enhance Hoban’s work as financial secretary is questionable. Similarly, Michael Fallon replaces the highly regarded Business Innovation and Skills minister Mark Prisk. Fallon has been a strong and reliable performer for ages, whose absence from higher office was frequently remarked upon. Whether Prisk had to make way is another question.
But all in all, it was a good shuffle. The removal of the abysmally underperforming erstwhile Party co-chairman Sayeeda Warsi was a must. Likewise, the installation of a new face at the Department for Transport will permit the leadership to plough on with the symbolic and important expansion of Heathrow. And the rise of a more ideological, braver generation offers the prospect of reinforcements among the welterweights for actual, genuine cuts.
It will put steel in the spine of those who believe we need to shrink the state to get Britain’s economy out of the mire.
Alex Deane is the former aide to David Cameron.