Reshuffle thoughts

The Tory torch has been passed to a younger generation; or to put it another way, if you're a middle aged, white male Conservative MP, who arrived in Westminster before 2010, and you're not already in the government, your chances of unlocking a red box of government documents now look pretty slim.

History has passed you by.

So one side effect of today's reshuffle may well be that quite a number of people matching this profile will decide they don't want to continue as parliamentary footsloggers, while twinkly 2010-ers overtake them.

I suspect number of people might well have "the conversation" with their constituency grandees this weekend, and start polishing up their CVs for life after Westminster.

And perhaps a number of the departing ministers might decide to follow David Willetts and move on from the Commons, too.

That will allow a last minute scramble for some pretty attractive Commons constituencies, as the next generation prepares for its moment in the sun.

I'm fascinated, meanwhile, by the appointment of Michael Gove as Chief Whip.

To be sure this is clearly a demotion from his role as a departmental secretary of state, but maybe not quite as big a demotion as it would have seemed ten years ago.

In what looks like being an era of hung parliaments, or wafer thin majorities, not to mention one of much more independent-minded MPs, Chief Whip becomes an absolutely crucial appointment.

One Conservative MP told me they expected Mr Gove to be a "Mitchell-esque" Chief Whip - someone who would register the concerns of MPs rather than simply seek to impose the party line.

The MP concerned tells a story of an opposition day motion on commuters which many commuter-belt Tories would have found impossible to vote against, because it was what they had been arguing for.

It fell during his brief tenure as Chief Whip, and Andrew Mitchell advised them to seek meetings with ministers and to abstain rather than be caught on the electorally wrong side of an argument.

It's been a while since New Labour-style iron discipline has been enforceable.

MPs know their votes are valuable in a hung parliament and many have discovered the nerve to use their bargaining power, and of course with the advent of the Backbench Business Committee, and given the Speaker's willingness to allow backbench amendments and urgent questions, they have more outlets for their concerns.

So a chief whip of real stature - and Mr Gove is admired and respected in the ranks - may prove to be a master-stroke.

And that's before we get onto the possibility that he will have a presentation role, speaking for the government on the Today Programme.

Of course the other interpretation is that a man some regard as "George Osborne's enforcer" has taken a commanding height in the party hierarchy, and that the appointment is really about managing a future transition from David Cameron's leadership to Mr Osborne's.

That will only hold water if Mr Gove remains in post after the next election.

The new leader of the Lords, Baroness Stowell, is apparently one of the group of Ministers who "attends Cabinet" without enjoying full Cabinet rank.

If the arrival of William Hague as Leader of the Commons and of Michael Gove in the Whips' Office suggests the Prime Minister is taking Commons management more seriously, this suggests a downgrading of Lords management.

It might be a mistake.

The sad and sudden demise of Lord Williams of Mostyn as Tony Blair's Leader of the Lords was a serious, if unappreciated, blow to his government.

Managing the Lords is no simple task, and his successors lacked his sure touch. And not being in the full Cabinet may undermine Lady Stowell's authority at the Dispatch Box and may make Cabinet colleagues less willing to take her advice.

It is worth remembering there were 14 government defeats in the last parliamentary session, 26 in the previous one, and 48 in the first, marathon session of this parliament.

In other words, bill after bill has been filleted in the Lords in the Coalition years.

Perhaps the calculation is that, in this final year of the Coalition, there will be less controversial legislation.


But as I write the Commons is debating DRIP, the emergency legislation on Data Retention. It is quite possible that the Lords could make the government's life very difficult on some unexpected issue

Meanwhile the arrival of another Michael, Michael Fallon, at the MoD signals a remarkable career turnaround. At the start of this parliament, he was a contender for the Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, but was overtaken by Andrew Tyrie.

He then became a deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and "made his bones" by staying up late to bat for the Party on Newsnight, and then getting up early the next morning to do the morning shows and Today.

That got him into ministerial office as the Tories' man in Vince Cable's BIS, and now he's made it into the Cabinet. His defeat by Mr Tyrie now looks like a blessing in disguised - even if, in 2010, it was a very effective disguise.

The suspicion in Westminster is that the services of Attorney General Dominic Grieve were dispensed with, to clear the way for the Conservatives to take a tougher position on the European Court of Human Rights.

As a former Prisons Minister who would have dealt with the ECHR's ruling on prisoner voting, Jeremy Wright can be expected to have a pretty hardline view. A lot of top lawyers in the frame for the job might have taken a rather less anti ECHR view.

Tough guy Mike Penning gets one of the toughest roles in government as the link minister between Theresa May's Home Office and Chris Grayling's Ministry of Justice. It's a role that chewed up and spat out a minister as able as Nick Herbert (admittedly when Ken Clark was Justice Secretary and the two principals were rather less simpatico). The incumbent in this job can quickly find themselves in the position of a small buffer state between rival empires, when the idea is to promote cooperation between two departments which have an obvious requirement to work together.