Politics

Gove, gone

If the Tories win the election, the reshuffle gamble will have paid off

19 July 2014

9:00 AM

19 July 2014

9:00 AM

‘There’s no shame in a cabinet to win the next election,’ declared an exasperated senior No. 10 figure on Tuesday night. This week’s reshuffle was not one for the purists: it was designed with campaigning, not governing, in mind. With less than ten months to go to polling day, politics trumps policy. This is why Michael Gove is moving from the Department for Education to become Chief Whip. The test of this shake-up will be whether the Tories win the next election or not.

This reshuffle demonstrated that Tory modernisation is not about measures anymore but men — and women. The party has spent most of David Cameron’s leadership trying to draw up policies to show it understands modern Britain and that it is not just the political wing of the privileged few. These efforts have had some success, but not enough. It still trails Labour by double digits  on the issue of fairness and who is ‘on the side of people like me’.

This gap helps to explain the reshuffle’s emphasis on promoting those who don’t look like typical Tories — hence the promotions for women and those with working-class backgrounds. As one senior source said after the reshuffle, ‘The agenda stays the same but the government looks much more like the people we want to vote for it.’

The biggest surprise of this reshuffle was Gove’s new job. For years his education reform agenda has been central to the Cameron project. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have often lavished praise on him, but Gove has now been shuffled out.

No. 10 is at pains to argue that this isn’t a demotion, that Gove will have huge influence as Chief Whip. They are equally quick to stress that the Gove agenda will continue. They say that the new Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has been given clear orders not to let up on reform. They argue that if they were going to retreat they wouldn’t have sent Nick Gibb, one of the architects of this agenda, back to the department along with Gove’s dear friend and intellectual ally Nick Boles.

But how Gove was moved sheds some light on what is really happening. Cameron has been mulling this change since late last year. I understand that Gove has been aware for some time that he would be shuffled in this way, but it took a lot of time and persuasion to make him accept the move. But the Prime Minister insisted: he wanted to demonstrate to his party and the country his willingness to sacrifice even his closest friends to the electorate.


Gove’s reluctance to move was understandable. He has always been a subscriber to the Steve Hilton view that the Tories should govern as if they had only one term to enact all the changes they want. But his departure from the Department for Education means that he misses out on eight months in which he could have consolidated his reforms.

Those close to him justify the shift on the grounds that the best way to embed his reforms is for the Tories to win the next election. They argue that if Gove going to Downing Street makes that more likely, then it is worth doing.

Quite what role Gove will play at the centre remains to be seen. At the moment, he appears to be a political version of the domestiques that you see in the Tour de France, the cyclists whose job it is to help the team leader to win. The sense is that Gove will play a similar role to the one he does in Cameron’s PMQs prep, constantly sending out options for Cameron to pick from. Several of the bolder moves in the reshuffle originated with him.

Those who know Cameron’s No. 10 predict that Gove will quickly become one of the most influential figures there. His presence and his intellect will make him the first port of call for those in Downing Street with a problem that needs solving.

Gove’s moment of greatest importance will come if the next general election produces another hung parliament. As Chief Whip, his view will be critical in determining whether the Tories should try to form another coalition with the Liberal Democrats or attempt some form of minority government. One of those inside No. 10 who backed his appointment believes that it makes the latter course far more likely.

The danger of shifting Gove, though, is that it suggests that Cameron will retreat in the face of opposition from vested interests. This problem has been compounded by Owen Paterson’s departure from Environment. Paterson had incurred the wrath of environmentalists for his enthusiasm for shale gas, his scepticism about green taxes and his appreciation that nature has to be managed. Moving him suggests that if you shout loud enough, you can get Downing Street to back down.

Paterson’s departure also creates problems for Cameron’s internal coalition management. Paterson spoke to parts of the Tory tribe that Downing Street struggles to reach. The danger is that his sacking will be taken by them as another insult. The reshuffle has also alienated Liam Fox, who did not appreciate being offered a job that he first did years before Cameron was an MP.

In policy terms, though, the most important move of this reshuffle was the removal of Dominic Grieve as Attorney General. With Grieve gone, the path is now clear for the Tories to propose withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

There were also some impressive personnel promoted. Liz Truss, the new Environment Secretary, is a proper Gladstonian Liberal, committed to liberty and efficiency. The new Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has the wisdom one would expect of someone who first entered the house in 1983, but combines it with the enthusiasm and the work rate of a new MP. While Nicky Morgan must be impressive to have overcome Downing Street’s instinctive suspicion of those whose Christianity has an evangelical edge to it.

One aspect of Cameron’s character that is underestimated is how competitive he is. The Prime Minister is a proud man who hates nothing more than the idea of losing to Ed Miliband. His decision to hire the strategist Lynton Crosby, and to accept his advice, was an early sign of what he is prepared to do to win. This reshuffle is another.

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  • Iain Herd

    Whenever his protestations – when Cameron loses in May (and another hung parliament should be considered that) – Gove should stand for leader. The only guy there should has a coherent conservative vision for Britain, and the ability to execute in the face of Whitehall intertia.

    • Steve Lloyd

      Whether you agree with Gove or not. His stance on Syria was disconcerting to say the least. He is one of a very rare breed nowadays. A conviction politician.

  • fathomwest

    Well I could not understand Gove being sacked (as that is what is was!). My view was supported when I read an article by Liam Nolan Head of three state schools in Birmingham, a Labour voter and a NUT member who wrote that he was devastated that Gove was gone from Education. Praising the man for what he has done for his schools ‘neglected for years and where aspirations of young people have been on the floor’ well worth a read (The Sun 17.7.14). It also contains an excellent article by Rod Liddle (of this parish) entitled ;GOVE: The only reason to vote Conservative.
    Before that we had Max Hastings’ article in the Mail in which he penned the line- which will, in my humble opinion, be the straw on the back of Cameron. “A shabby day’s work which Cameron will live to regret” this has now been taken to the next level by Mrs Gove a woman not to be ignored.
    Number 10 may try to lie and say it is not a demotion. That is what I cannot abide with Cameron he believes we are all stupid!.. Gove has taken a reduction in salary. that has to be a demotion. Why he allowed himself to be ridiculed this way must be his sense of loyalty to the party and Cameron. Misplaced loyalty I believe and he will be under intense pressure from friends and family to resign. He will be supported by many in the country.
    Cameron has handed the ghastly NUT a victory they do not deserve. Gove was doing a terrific job and Cameron and his import from Australia have ignored the silent majority in this country.
    I expect Cameron to give way to Juncker next. Cameron has no bottle whatsoever.

    • GraveDave

      The silent majority…ah… the silent majority. Didn’t they vote for the BNP too?
      Seriously, you would think Gove was signing on or having to mooch round food banks or something.

      • fathomwest

        I suggest a visit to the doctor may be a good idea. Goodness knows what point you are trying to make. But, please, keep it to yourself.

    • Kitty MLB

      Agree with every word. Apparently Camerons spin doctor
      said Gove wasn’t popular and they were not higher in the
      polls because of that. Its now about being popular and winning elections and not being right.

      Idiots will always vote for idiots whose policies will benefit
      no one but the idiotic.

      • Paul

        Cameron in office – take the middle road, be utterly insipid and policy-free so you don’t upset any of the electorate. Gove winding up all the lefties was more than enough to show his effectiveness – more so than Cameron’s as PM.

  • AnotherDave

    “With Grieve gone, the path is now clear for the Tories to propose withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”

    This sounds like nonsense. The Conservatives are currently transferring power over Justice and Home Affairs to the EU.

  • Diggery Whiggery

    ‘There’s no shame in a cabinet to win the next election’

    Well that rather depends on how you define it. If it means having the best people with a proven track record in place, each mastering their brief and regardless of their age or sex or ethnic background then I would say there is no shame in it.

    In contrast, if it means replacing a cabinet of the best people, by promoting other people simply because of their sex, age and in one case ease on the eye, to chase the vote of people from a certain demographic who don’t actually necessarily vote for people of the same demographic (shocking I know) then it is, at the very least, SHAMEFULLY SUPERFICIAL.

  • Gwangi

    So Gove has gone to be replaced by someone who got the job just because she is female and looks pretty – though she knows nothing about education, has no background in it or a record of caring much about it, and went to a private school.

    In fact, ALL SIX education ministers went to private school and not ONE to a state schools they are now in charge of. Brilliant idea! How about appointing a vegetarian as minister for meat, or a pacifist as defence minister?

    Oh but let’s not forget we have an arts minister who knows nothing for the arts and cares less who only got the job because he ticks the ‘British Asian’ brown window box…

    Plus we have yet another pretty Pamela in the environment department who knows nothing of the countryside and no doubt cares less.

    It is a superficial, silly cabinet stuffed full of ignorant know-nothings who owe their place in it to privilege, or being female, or being brown.

    So whose votes do the Tories want again? Many Tory voters will stay at home, though no doubt some mumsnets queens and Asians who send their kids to private school will vote Conservative. So lose 10 votes gain 3, maybe. Maybe the Tory high command needs some double maths of an afternoon instead of pandering to the diversity debras who stalk every tax-payer funded organisation in our increasingly unpleasant land.

  • Amir
  • Tim Almond

    “In policy terms, though, the most important move of this reshuffle was the removal of Dominic Grieve as Attorney General. With Grieve gone, the path is now clear for the Tories to propose withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”

    Is it too much to ask that journalists do their research into these things? Article 6(2) of the Maastricht Treaty is very clear on these matters:

    “”The Union shall respect fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms signed in Rome on 4 November 1950 and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, as general principles of Community law.””

    The prime minister may be able to propose withdrawing from the juridiction of the ECHR, but if he tries to do it he will be in breach of the Maastricht Treaty, which would spark a crisis. Do you think he’s seriously going to jeopardise our EU membership?

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