I do have some sympathy for DC. Re-shuffles are hell. We all know he hates them and has put them off whenever he could. The radical nature of his 2014 reshuffle has clearly taken a lot of commentators by surprise!
I was Leader of Oxfordshire County Council for 11 years and I must have done three or four re-shuffles in that time. They have several characteristics:
- you upset as many people you have sacked as you please those you have promoted and each of those you sack can become so aggrieved as to make your life difficult and to promote plots to remove you.
- when you think hard about people’s capacity for a challenging job (particularly true in local government) you discover that many of those with the skills and mental capacity either have not got the time or cannot afford to give up their day job.
- on the other side, many with neither the skills nor the mental capacity for a big job have an infinite amount of time at their disposal and ambitions well beyond their capabilities.
- the process of sacking can be stressful when the office holder being told his job is ended is relying on the income to pay for his life style. Politics should not be about money but I am afraid it can be highly intrusive in motivating individuals.
So I have some sympathy for DC in the difficult job he has done in the full glare of the national media machine. Now I turn to some individuals.
SURVIVOR: Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government. I suspect there were not a few council leaders and councillors who were cheered by the rumour that Eric was for the chop. In the end, he has survived. I am not clear why but he has been much more a friend of the Treasury than of his local government colleagues and that may explain much. Although hailed a successful council leader, I think he served for about a year on Bradford Council. I am not sure he has been much of a friend of local government during his spell at the Department of Communities and Local Government.
SURVIVOR Neither has his sidekick, Brandon Lewis, who has moved to housing and planning within DCLG. The new role looks something of a political graveyard on past performance.
However, he will have Penny Mordaunt under him (in an organisational sense!) and we will have to see how she fares. Local government rarely finds itself with a real friend who will fight its corner and stand up for its values and I doubt if much has changed with the reshuffle.
DEPARTED: I was sorry to see Nick Hurd has lost his job. The son of Douglas Hurd and a decent and well meaning guy, I suspect his departure proves that those who succeed in climbing the greasy pole of politics are not always the best role models but I hope Nick finds a useful role for his undoubted talents. Nick was a great promoter of local representative democracy and while I was less sure of the organisation he chose to promote it, there was never any doubt as to his sincerity in so doing.
SURVIVOR: Just to disprove my previous statement, I am delighted to see that Greg Clark has survived the reshuffle and has moved to become Universities & Science Minister, following David Willetts. Greg was another rarity in national politics – approachable and decent. I hope he does well and I hope I can persuade him that Oxfordshire’s high tech economy has huge potential for the UK economy and for economic growth in and beyond our county.
DEPARTED: I do have to applaud William Hague for the dignified manner in which he has moved on to a new role and is clearly preparing for a complete change of scene at the next election. I served 24 years in local government and 11 of them as leader of my council. It was enough. You can get stale and set in your ways and there is usually someone ready to take your place when the time comes in which respect, I think it will be interesting to see how Philip Hammond adapts to his role as Foreign Secretary. He has always seemed a bit of a grey man, hovering between accountant and lawyer so how he struts the world stage will be an interesting study.
AT LAST – A BEARD IN GOVERNMENT! Finally, my congratulations to Stephen Crabb who becomes both Welsh Secretary and the first member of the Cabinet with a beard since 1905! If he appears beardless within a few weeks, we will know the Party apparatchiks have been at him. Shame on them if they do and shame on him if he succumbs!
With a beard and a Welsh constituency, he may well be assumed by many to be Labour and he might manage to sneak into the odd Labour meeting undetected!