Shuffling in the shadows

There have been not one, but two, shadow cabinet reshuffles since I last blogged. I’m beginning to make the dead tree press look positively on the pulse.

First, the Conservative one. I can’t decide if Cameron has simply decided to copy everything Gordon Brown says, or if he has given up the ghost and has decided to let the headbangers in the party take over, a la William Hague circa 2000.

In terms of the Brown theory, we have Cameron bringing in “outside talent” in the form of Pauline Neville-Jones and Sayeeda Warsi, both of whom are to be ennobled (I thought all parties were committed to making such casual patronage a thing of the past? Clearly that is so March). But as my fellow bloggers have pointed out, appointing a Slobo apologist and a rabid homophobe to your front bench doesn’t exactly encapsulate the modern, liberal minded Conservativism that Cameron has claimed to personify.

So perhaps my latter theory, that Cameron is morphing into Hague in midst of his downward spiral, is more accurate. Here there appears to be quite a lot of evidence as well. Demoting David Willetts, who after all did nothing wrong apart from repeat the established party line, is a pathetic sop to the loony brigade, almost as cringingly embarrassing as his hasty references to “Grammar streaming” (it still makes me laugh even now) a couple of weeks ago. Giving in to them like this won’t make them grateful, it will just encourage them to push him further to the right. I’ve been saying for months now that the real story about the Conservative Party is that Cameron doesn’t really lead it: this is yet more tangible proof.

Campbell’s reshuffle is less dramatic (read: less gimmicky), mainly because the Lib Dem Shadow Cabinet was unbroke to begin with. It would be more concerning if people such as Vince Cable, Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne HAD been shuffled out of their present roles.

A few things concern me though. First of all, Wales. That it was long past time for Lembit to move on is a given, but why replace him with Roger Williams? A great mind Roger may well be, but a dynamic spokesperson for the party he is not. The Welsh Party desperately needs to start looking younger, more dynamic and more distinctive. It has had two lousy months and with the Plaid-Labour coalition now a done deal it desperately needs to develop a new approach to make it stand out apart from the hegemonic new coalition government and a buoyant Conservative Official Opposition. Is Roger the man to do this? I think not.

I have to admit to being completely perplexed about why Jenny Willott has been overlooked by Ming yet again. She’s talented, intelligent and sensible and yet neither Ming nor his predecessor have thus far given her even a whiff of an interesting portfolio.

To make matters worse, Ming has chosen to reduce the gender balance of his shadow cabinet by sacking Jo Swinson. One of the party’s spokespeople for the Celtic fringe has been treading water for years and has just spent the last eight months making himself and his party a laughing stock, while the other has diligently done her job, made no gaffes, and has earned the party a number of the right sort of headlines. The latter has been given the boot, while the former has been promoted. Can anyone explain this to me?

Ming’s treatment of Jenny and Jo, combined with his effective demotion of Sarah Teather has lead to the new front bench looking considerably more male – and considerably older (lest we forget Stephen William’s sacking) – than the old one. If this had been because of their personal failings, I would not be complaining, but I doubt anyone seriously believes that is the case. It is curious that Ming has chosen to make a young woman his scapegoat for flagging poll ratings and concluded that what the front bench needs most to renew itself is more graying men.

A potential silver lining though: surely if Lembit is now the trades spokes, he must stand down as Welsh leader? Turning twin-headed monster of Opik and German into a tri-headed one would be ludicrous. Assuming he does, and an AM other than German throws their hat into the ring, we might even find ourselves with a single leader in Wales at last. We can but hope.

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