Reshuffle: Osborne, Cable stay in place - so what's the difference?
Jeremy Hunt gets Health, Ken Clarke stays in Cabinet, Greening flies from Transport, Shapps is party chairman
DAVID CAMERON has tried to get a grip on the government's falling popularity with a reshuffle that tightens his control over his party and his MPs. But he is still dithering.
He tried to force Iain Duncan Smith out of the Work and Pensions post by offering him Ken Clarke's job as Justice Secretary, but IDS simply refused - so he is staying put.
Chancellor George Osborne – still in place, needless to say - wanted IDS out of the way so he could carry out more cuts in welfare. As Tory commentator Ben Brogan blogged, Cameron's pledge at the weekend to "cut out the dithering" has a hollow ring today.
Party loyalist Lord Forsyth also criticised Cameron for failing to move Business Secretary Vince Cable - a job in the gift of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. The right wing of the Tory party see Cable as an obstacle to more radical policies to revive the economy, including more powers for bosses to hire and fire workers. Forsyth branded it as "a missed opportunity".
The surprise winner of the reshuffle was Ken Clarke who – as I posted earlier - is being given a roving role as minister without portfolio at the Cabinet Office with input on economic policy and the National Security Council's anti-terrorism measures. Clarke is therefore going to be looking over Osborne's shoulder and could be accused of being a backseat driver.
Cameron's main focus was on party management. He moved Andrew Mitchell from handing out overseas aid to handing out the cane to his unruly backbenchers as chief whip. Mitchell, a rich merchant banker with a ski chalet in the Alps, was known as 'Thrasher' at public school and he has been told to put some stick about after the rebellion over Lords reform.
Cameron also promoted housing minister Grant Shapps - a brilliant populist with a knack for "speaking human" - to party chairman to replace Baroness Warsi, who was disliked.
Cameron also attempted to defuse a number of ticking time-bombs, including the forthcoming Leveson inquiry report, by moving the tainted Jeremy Hunt from Culture to Health.
Hunt, who got too close to the Murdoch empire and risked further problems for Cameron, has been replaced at Culture by unknown junior minister for the disabled, Maria Miller. The one thing to know about Miller is that she can be counted on to follow the brief.
However, the Daily Mirror's Kevin Maguire said the fact that Hunt retained a seat in the Cabinet suggests it's likely Cameron knows he has been given "a clean bill of health" in Leveson's advance findings.
Hunt has been told to defuse the continuing rows over the NHS following the highly unpopular reforms by Andrew Lansley, the former Health Secretary. Lansley has been put out to grass as Leader of the House to replace the retiring Sir George Young.
As predicted, Cameron shunted Transport Secretary Justine Greening out of the department because she was against the development of a third runway at Heathrow and replaced her with former chief whip, Patrick McLoughlin, a loyal son-of-a-miner who (unlike Greening) has no constituency interest in West London and can be counted on to do whatever is necessary to increase Britain's airport capacity in the southeast.
Greening did not look too happy, leaving in a blacked-out car with no comment. She has been given International Development.
Overall the reshuffle does not encourage Tory MPs like John Redwood who said this morning he wants to see a change of economic policy, rather than a few faces being moved around the Cabinet table. Despite all the reshuffle hype, it looks like more of the same. ·