Reshuffle fever on hold for now

David Cameron surrounded by his cabinet at Prime Minister's questions Image copyright PA

We have had the European elections, the Queen has delivered her Speech and the Newark by-election is out of the way.

So it is time for we denizens of Westminster to turn our minds to the annual parlour game that is the government reshuffle.

Reshuffle speculation is fun but foolish. In the days when Alastair Campbell ruled the roost at Downing Street, he would often begin the first lobby briefing after a new ministerial team had been unveiled by reading out a list of his top ten rubbish reshuffle stories which in recent days the papers had assured their readers were gospel. And I can confess that I once appeared on that list.

So with that subtle caveat, I will cautiously venture a little reshuffle speculation of my own. And that is that it is not going to happen imminently. Some MPs are still talking about next Monday as R-Day.

But I am led to believe that no date has been fixed apart from a general assumption that it will probably come before the summer break at the end of July.

Here is why. I have been told by several sources that David Cameron is not minded to make his ministerial changes until the government has agreed who it thinks should be the UK's new European Commissioner.

That person could come from within the government. And the Prime Minister might want to remove that minister from government and announce his or her nomination for Europe at the same time.

But two things stand in the way of this.

1. I am told that the final name has yet to be agreed. There is lots of speculation that it could be the Leader of the House of Commons, Andrew Lansley. But there are others in the frame. Some MPs are still pushing for Martin Callanan, the former leader of the Tory group in the European Parliament, although this is thought unlikely. The former chief whip Andrew Mitchell is still considered a potential candidate by some in Whitehall, especially if his outstanding "plebgate" legal cases settle early without going to court.

2. Even if the government had agreed its nominee for the European Commission, now would not be the moment to reveal it to the world. By now, I mean a time when the UK is locked in battle over who will be the head of the European Commission. I am told that Downing Street wants to complete that battle and then negotiate which role the UK's next commissioner will get. Only once that is settled will they then get into who the UK's nominee is.

In other words, there is still some water to flow under the bridge before Downing Street is in a position to do a reshuffle. The link between the reshuffle and the Europe job is not absolute: the PM could still reshuffle in July and announce his candidate in August. But that could create potential complications and no one wants to be changing ministers during the holiday "silly season".

There are other reasons that point to a delay to the reshuffle:

  • The prime minister has been abroad a great deal in recent weeks. He has not yet had the time to sit down, have the meetings and make some of the bigger strategic decisions that reshuffles can involve.
  • The Conservative success in the Newark by-election means the PM is under no pressure to do anything soon.
  • The prime minister has repeatedly postponed reshuffles in the past because he - like most PMs - does not like doing them.
  • Reshuffles create more unhappiness than joy as the sacked and the overlooked always outnumber the promoted. So Mr Cameron has an incentive to wait until the end of July so the unhappy bunnies can moan to their spouses and partners over the sun lounger rather than foment unrest on the backbenches.

So all this points to later rather than sooner.

As for who might be on the way up or down, well that is the mug's game that I wrote about earlier and will leave to others. But as for the other parties, I am told that neither Nick Clegg nor Ed Miliband are planning to make any substantive changes to their front bench teams.

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