Everyone in politics loves a surprise reshuffle, and the departure of Maria Miller and ensuing mini-reshuffle did not disappoint.
Sajid Javid and Nicky Morgan became the first of the 2010 intake to win a seat around the Cabinet table and Andrea Leadsom took her first step onto the ministerial ladder. As eyes in Westminster begin to look beyond the May elections towards the more extensive reshuffles expected in the summer, they will be analysing these appointments for signs of what is to come.
Reshuffles are always eagerly anticipated, but the reshuffles this summer will be particularly interesting as the government and opposition put their final ministerial teams in place before the 2015 election. This is the reshuffle where the Leaders will seek to neutralise any potential weak links and ensure that they have their key communicators and attack dogs in the correct briefs. At the same time they will be looking to ensure that key allies are being rewarded and that they are putting in place a team that will appeal to the electorate. This can be seen in the promotion of Javid and Morgan, both confirmed Osbornites and representative of the modern face of Conservatism that Cameron is trying to project to voters.
Much like with the Conservatives, it would seem that the key Shadow Cabinet names are too firmly entrenched in their positions to make a major reshuffle likely.
So what can we expect? From the Government side we are being told not to expect changes in any of the major Cabinet posts, despite some intriguing, but unsubstantiated, speculation in the Telegraph earlier this year that William Hague was considering stepping down. Instead this reshuffle is likely to focus on the mid-ranking and junior posts in the Government.
There are a group of mid-ranking Cabinet ministers, such as Ken Clarke, Francis Maude and Sir George Young, who could be moved on to make room for new blood around the Cabinet table. We know that Cameron wants more young and more female ministers in Cabinet, so upcoming junior ministers such as Esther Mcvey, Matthew Hancock and Liz Truss will be expecting to receive calls.
Who is particularly vulnerable? The Party Chairman Grant Shapps has come in for criticism recently and a poor Conservative performance in the local elections would lead to increased calls for his head. The experienced Michael Fallon is due a promotion following his impressive performance at BIS and would bring experience and discipline to a vital role in coordinating Conservative campaigning. This could also be the reshuffle that sees the long-expected demotion of Baroness Warsi.
In terms of Liberal Democrat ministers there is obviously less scope for any significant reshuffle, especially following the unexpected departure from the frontbench of Michael Moore and Jeremy Browne last year. However there may be room for the promotion of a young female minister such as Jo Swinson or Jenny Willott.
Any speculation around a Labour reshuffle inevitably focuses on the strength of Ed Miliband, and his relationship with key Shadow Cabinet ministers such as Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper. This ignores Milband’s track record of successful recent reshuffles which have seen potential opponents neutralised and the rapid promotion of effective performers from the 2010 intake, such as Chuka Umunna and Rachel Reeves. Indeed, effective junior Shadow ministers such as Emma Reynolds, Dan Jarvis and Rushanara Ali will all be hoping that he continues this trend.
Much like with the Conservatives, it would seem that the key Shadow Cabinet names are too firmly entrenched in their positions to make a major reshuffle likely. Some have called for the return of some of Labour’s ‘big beasts’, such as Alistair Darling and Alan Johnson, to give extra experience and gravitas to the election team. But Alistair Darling’s commitments in Scotland rule out any summer move and Miliband has previously stated that the return of such elder statesmen would undermine the ‘change’ message he is trying to get across to the electorate.