David Cameron summoned cabinet ministers on Monday night who are to be sacked or demoted in his first major government reshuffle which will see a comprehensive clear-out of ministers who have failed to deliver and the promotion of a new generation.
Kenneth Clarke, who has been fighting to avoid demotion from his current post as justice secretary to replace Sir George Young as leader of the Commons, was one of the first ministers to see the prime minister in his room at the House of Commons.
Anyway two songs actually sums up what I feel of the coalition
There were signs on Monday that Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, and Caroline Spelman, environment secretary, will be among the victims. Lansley left the prime minister in despair when he struggled to explain the need for his plans to devolve most of the NHS’s £100bn budget to new GP-led commissioning groups. Spelman has failed to recover from the fiasco of plans to sell of parts of the national forest.
Friends of Clarke, who announced that he was heading off for his traditional curry after his meeting with the prime minister, said it would be a mistake to move the veteran former chancellor. “Ken is presiding over some of the biggest cuts in government – to prisons and to legal aid. But he has neutralised the Prison Officers’ Association and you hardly hear a pip out of the barristers. The prime minister will regret it if Ken goes.”
Cheryl Gillan, the Welsh secretary, is also expected to be a casualty. In a sign of what was being dubbed the first Twitter reshuffle, Gillan removed the description of herself as secretary of state for Wales from her personal Twitter profile.
David Jones, the Wales office minister and MP for Clywd West who has been tipped as a possible replacement for Gillan, then mistakenly tweeted: “Well I’ll be darned.” When the ITN anchor Alastair Stewart noticed, Jones tweeted: “@alstewitn slip of the thumb. Was supposed to be a DM in reply to a friend.” The prime minister, who hopes to announce his new cabinet by this afternoon, is saying that only those who can play a decisive role in the next “delivery phase” of the government can expect to keep their places in the cabinet.
Downing Street confirmed that Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary, will replace Patrick McLoughlin as the government’s chief whip. The appointment of Mitchell, a whip under John Major who has made no secret of his ambition to become chief whip, shows the influence of George Osborne. “George gets his chief whip,” said one senior Tory. Mitchell formed an alliance with the future chancellor while they ran rival campaigns during the 2005 Tory leadership contest.
Mitchell, who managed David Davis’ campaign, invited Osborne to dinner at his country house during the contest.
Osborne, who was identified as the most unpopular member of the government in a recent Guardian / ICM poll, was booed when he awarded medals at the Olympic Stadium last night. By contrast Gordon Brown was cheered when he appeared at the Aquatics Centre.The outgoing chief whip, Patrick McLoughlin, will be promoted to a full cabinet post, possibly as transport secretary. The prime minister would like McLoughlin, a former miner and one of the government’s few genuine working class members, to become one of the Tories’ main faces on the television.
One government source said: “The prime minister sees the second half of this parliament as the delivery phase. We want to have people who have a proven record in delivering in their departments.”
Cameron also wants to bring into the cabinet and into more junior roles what is being described asa “new generation of MPs”. This is likely to see the likes of Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, joining the cabinet.
Members of the 2010 intake of MPs will be promoted into government, though not into the cabinet. “There will be fresh blood into the cabinet,” one source said.
David Laws, the former Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, is likely to return as an education minister. He may also have a roving policy brief across government. Jo Swinson, Nick Clegg’s parliamentary private secretary, is also expected to be promoted.
Cameron, who knows reshuffles can turn into Westminster soap operas that often go wrong, hopes to ensure the main message of the week will be about delivery and fresh policies to promote economic growth. The prime minister and Nick Clegg are due to make a joint appearance to give details of bills to provide a basis for £40bn to guarantee infrastructure projects and £10bn for house building.
The deputy prime minister told MPs the decision to abandon reform of the House of Lords has cleared a space in the calendar to rush through the bills. “The prime minister and I will be making some announcements shortly on how we will use this opportunity of a gap, an unexpected gap in the legislative timetable, in order to push forward things which will help to create growth and jobs in our economy.”
Mitchell will now have his dream job. “This is the man who has always wanted to be chief whip,” one Tory said. “Andrew has modelled himself on Francis Urquhart.” That reference is to the chief whip played by the late Ian Richardson in the television series House of Cards, whose catchphrase was: “You might very well think that; I couldn’t possible comment.”
The move for Mitchell came as his former patron, David Davis, challenged the prime minister to impose spending and tax cuts faster.
Davis, who has not sat on the Tory front bench since he resigned from the shadow cabinet in 2008 to fight a byelection on civil liberties, called for phasing out of employers’ national insurance contributions, starting with small companies.He told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One: “The problem with the cuts is not the cuts programme itself, it is the speed of it. It is taking too long to take effect. Only 6% of it is under way. If we are going to get the debt levels of the country down, rather than growing by £600bn in this parliament, we have got to get on with it.”
Davis and Mitchell have not been close since the former appalled most members of the shadow cabinet by resigning to fight the byelection.
Cameron said: “As chief whip, Andrew will ensure strong support for our radical legislative programme, by working hard to win the argument in the Commons as well as playing a big role in the No 10 team. He will be invaluable as the government embarks on the next, vital phase of its mission to restore our economy to growth and reform our public services.”
Mitchell said: “It has been a huge privilege to serve as part of a coalition which has radically overhauled the way aid is spent and brought a new rigour to British development policy. I am incredibly proud to be part of a government which is improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people and helping the poorest countries stand on their own two feet. I leave [the Department for International Development] with great sadness but I very much look forward to the task ahead.”
The reshuffle is unlikely to see a promotion for one of the most high profile members of the 2010 intake of Tory MPs, who account for 49% of the parliamentary party. Zac Goldsmith, the environmentalist and MP for Richmond Park, indicated he would resign as a Tory if the party supports a third runway at Heathrow.
Goldsmith told Radio 4’s World at One: “If we enter the next election with a manifesto which does not rule out expansion of Heathrow, I think the Conservative party would be very badly defeated in areas beneath the flightpath. I personally would not want to stand as a Conservative candidate on a manifesto that is ambiguous on this issue.”
He spoke out after Osborne said he favoured an extra runway in the south-east and is to try to build cross-party consensus for the controversial move.
Last month Baroness Warsi appealed to Mr Cameron to allow her to keep her post in any reshuffle but she hinted heavily at her departure when she wrote on her official Tory chairman Twitter account: “It’s been a privilege and an honour to serve my party as co-chairman, signing off @ToryChairman.”
The question for me and fellow followers both on Twitter and facebook will it make any difference given that the Cameron supporters are saying that they want new blood in cabinet and will it be enough to save his partner in crime Cleggybabe who is also facing the possibilities of a leadership challenge.
I am most of would like to see the back of George Osbourne as he lacks the political clout as the treasurer given the welcome he has received another setback Retail sales fell 0.4% on a like-for-like basis from the same month last year, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
Excluding Easter, it was the weakest month since November.
“The feel good factor from the Olympics failed to inspire spending,” the BRC said.
In particular, online shopping grew 4.8% in August, the lowest increase since the BRC started collecting the data in October 2008.
“There’s no evidence here of any Olympic boost to retail sales overall,” said BRC director general Stephen Robertson.
“Hot weather and the Olympics did help sales of party food and drink but that was more than offset by a really weak performance for non-food goods.”
Shops in central London saw a sharp drop in visitors during the Olympic Games.
‘More empty shops’
The BRC acknowledged this, but said that the net effect of the Games was minimal as “lower footfall in London was offset by a better performance in the rest of the country”.
In terms of fashion, the autumn-winter ranges in womenswear did not attract many shoppers, the BRC said.
But women’s footwear attracted more buyers than men’s shoes.
Separate figures, compiled by the Local Data Company (LDC), suggested the proportion of shops lying empty increased in every region in Britain bar London between January and June.
An average of 14.6% of shops now remain empty across Britain, according to the LDC.
It said a dramatic drop in consumer spending, higher online sales and retail space expansion were to blame for the high vacancy rate.
An average of 14.6% of shops now remain empty across Britain, according to LDC.
LDC says a dramatic drop in consumer spending, which it calculates is now back at 2002 levels, is partly to blame for the high vacancy rate.
Higher online sales and retail space expansion are also factors, says LDC.
However, one group criticised the methodology of the survey, saying the boundaries used by LDC to define a town centre had not been updated since 2004.
The Association of Town Centre Management called the data “fatally flawed”.
“They use an out-of-date set of criteria for establishing town centre boundaries and, as a result, they don’t reflect the reality on the ground,” said Martin Blackwell, chief executive of the ATCM.
‘Inexorable and irreversible decline’
The North West of England was the worst performing region overall, with a 20.1% vacancy rate, according to LDC.
London, which saw the proportion of vacant shops fall to 10.1% in the first half of the year from 10.7% in the last six months of 2011, was the only region to report a drop in the number of empty shops.
LDC, whose findings are based on visits to 145,000 shops between January and June this year, found retail parks had the lowest overall vacancy rate, at just 8.1%.
LDC director Matthew Hopkinson added that there was “some way to go” before there was likely to be positive change in the proportion of empty shops.
“Fundamental national economic issues are being played out at a local level,” added Mr Hopkinson.
Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said the survey indicated the need for a rethink on the redevelopment of vacant property.
Ms Peace said this would require the property industry, including investors, to accept new lower value options for properties.
“The alternative is a period of steady, inexorable and irreversible decline,” she warned.
Separate figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) suggested that retail sales in the UK in August fell 0.4% on a like-for-like basis from the same month last year.
“The feel good factor from the Olympics failed to inspire spending,” the BRC said.
Meanwhile, online shopping grew 4.8% in August, the lowest increase since the BRC started collecting the data in October 2008.
Lets not forget that we maybe seeing David Cameron Backbenches doing a double whammy as they have ascended to the august station of parliamentary under secretary. They have won the right to be called “minister” by obsequious officials.
They might not get a car and driver these days but they have become proud possessors of a red box and have no shame in showing it off.
But for most MPs, reshuffles are a source of resentment. They are the moment when all hope is dashed, when expectation deflates and the bitterness begins to creep in.
For these MPs know that their political careers are now on the downward path, that their best years are over, that they have a great future behind them.
This is the danger for David Cameron as he reshuffles his government. The Conservative parliamentary party is already restless. Scores of Tory MPs have shown themselves willing to rebel against their government.
The risk is that the prime minister ends up annoying more MPs than he pleases and that could make his discipline problem even worse. That could have a huge impact on big parliamentary votes in the next few years.
Here is my informed take on just how many Conservatives backbenchers are feeling:
Some will accept with good grace. These are the old stagers, the men and women who were probably ministers in John Major’s government. They might have wanted to remain in government but they will probably accept that they have had their moment.
But others will be less sanguine. There will be some ex-ministers for whom their dismissal is a complete surprise. They did not expect the chop and so the impact will be even greater. They will wonder what they have done wrong.
Was their loyal, trusty service not good enough? Did the prime minister value them so little that he felt able to dispense with their services so easily, cruelly ending their career simply so he could give their job to someone else?
This is a large group. Few MPs enter Parliament – however much some deny it – without a small voice in their head asking whether or not they could cut the ministerial mustard.
Some have satisfied their ambition as committee chairmen or policy specialists. But most still harbour a fantasy that government must one day have room for their talents.
They will have been waiting for this moment since the general election, the expectation will have pent up, and they know it is probably their one opportunity to make the grade before voters next go to the polls. And now they have missed their chance.
There are some MPs who were told in 2010 to be patient, their moment would come later. These are MPs who have been around for years but never felt the warm glow of pride as they cruise around Whitehall in the ministerial car.
They might have been fobbed off with a paltry role as a parliamentary bag-carrier for another minister. They will have watched other colleagues picking up their red boxes and wondered in bemusement: “Why them?”
It is, in the words of one MP, “a nagging, irritating thing that gnaws away at you for your whole career. You want to be a minister. Anything, you just want to be a minister. And there is nothing you can do about it.”
Some 54 Tory MPs were elected for the first time in 2005. They might have voted for David Cameron in the leadership contest of that year. They might have worked the hard yards of opposition, helping to reform their party in Mr Cameron’s mould.
They might not have been natural modernisers but they did their bit and spoke up for the Big Society and told the television cameras it was marvellous to have a leader who knew how to cuddle a husky or tell yobs they needed more love in their lives. And now they discovered that all that hard work has come with no reward.
Many MPs will have worked hard keeping their noses clean. They will have listened carefully to their whips and not rebelled against the government over Europe or Lords reform. How might they feel if one of their colleagues who has walked through the opposition lobbies gets a job?
Some 81 Tory MPs rebelled against the government and called for a referendum on Europe – and it would be quite difficult for the prime minister to rule all of them out of office forever.
In all, 148 Conservative MPs were elected to parliament for the first time in 2010. A goodly number of them have a confident self-belief in their own ability. Many are not spring chickens, having worked long and hard to get into Parliament while running businesses or holding down pretty chunky jobs.
Not all of them will get jobs in this reshuffle. They might ask quite reasonably why their neighbour has been favoured and they have not.
There are by my count 23 Conservative backbenchers who were shadow ministers before the 2010 election. They had a reasonable expectation of getting a job in government. They did not, in part because their jobs had to be given to Liberal Democrats.
Some were told that they should wait their turn. If they do not get a chance now, they could probably reasonably conclude their time has passed.
Some male Conservative MPs will not be happy if they see some of their female colleagues promoted and they might conclude that gender has trumped merit. Many are still smarting at the appointment of Chloe Smith as a Treasury minister in October 2011 to replace Justine Greening.
A flood of female promotions might further upset some white, male MPs of a certain age.
To top it off the issue of Regional Pay a right-wing think tank Policy Exchange is that it qualifies as an educational charity.
This means that its efforts “to develop and promote new policy ideas which deliver better public services, a stronger society and a more dynamic economy” are state-subsidised.
It was set up by ex-public schoolboy Tory MPs Nick Boles, Michael Gove and Francis Maude a decade ago, so the fact that its “investigations” recommend greater insecurity and social cleansing for council tenants, reduced pay levels for teachers, a ban on national strike ballots, lower police pensions and now regional pay for the public sector should amaze no-one.
Nor should David Cameron’s soft spot for Policy Exchange be surprising.
The Prime Minister must be delighted to have an organisation to develop and test-drive policies in line with the most rabid Tory backbencher’s wet dreams and to have its supporters’ financial donations topped up by the taxpayer.
Policy Exchange’s obsession with slashing pay levels in the public sector is predictable, given the wealth of its founders and backers.
None depends on public services, other than the police to protect their property.
Reduced expenditure on public-sector workers’ pay and service provision may distress hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people in society, but it could allow George Osborne to trim a bit more off the top rate of tax so that the rich can become even richer.
Policy Exchange claims that its reports are evidence-based and rigorously analysed, but its arguments for regionalised pay show little understanding of reality or the likely effect of its implementation.
If national pay rates, with additional weighting for higher-cost areas such as London and the south-east, are inefficient or unaffordable, profits-driven large national private companies would replace them with regional pay.
That doesn’t happen because, outside London and the south-east, there are no huge regional discrepancies in either earnings or cost of living levels to take into account and it makes administrative sense to engage in one forum of pay bargaining rather than a multiplicity of processes.
Nor has the example of a few dozen local authorities in south-east England that opted out of national pay bargaining in the past 25 years had the effect of cutting pay. Pay policy in most areas has followed national pay bargaining outcomes.
Even were the Policy Exchange proposals to be accepted, do its supporters believe that the results would assist in building the “more dynamic economy” the think tank claims to champion?
The view advanced that private businesses are unable to recruit staff because of higher wages being paid in the public sector is unsustainable.
Private small businesses are on their knees because their potential customers cannot afford to buy in light of rising unemployment, underemployment and reduced spending capacity.
Cutting public-sector pay in poorer regions would not encourage private investment or expansion because the local economy would be further depressed by a generalised reduction in consumer demand.
The answer to a stagnant economy and reduced living standards is not to be found in the government’s generalised attack on workers’ living standards, especially in the public sector.
Only a real alternative, such as the People’s Charter, based on taxing the rich and big business, extending public ownership, supporting manufacturing, increasing pay and pensions and strengthening public services can offer a credible way forward.