Tory swing to right: it's enough to make a Lib Dem have kittens
Heathrow unguarded, a climate change sceptic at Environment and a green belt sceptic at Planning
DAVID CAMERON has summoned the first meeting of his reshuffled cabinet today as tensions rise with Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats over the right-ward lurch of the government changes.
Cameron used his changes to middle-ranking ministerial posts to turn the screw on the Lib Dems. The immediate flash-point is the apparent U-turn by the Chancellor and the PM over the third runway for Heathrow after Cameron shunted Transport Secretary Justine Greening to Overseas Development (she won't be able to complain while she's in Africa or India).
Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP, who like Greening has a constituency in the flightpath, this morning repeated his threat to go for a by-election if the government gives the green light for Heathrow 3 - a plan that London Mayor Boris Johnson has already denounced as "mad".
Grant Shapps, the smiley new Tory party chairman, said it won't come to that because Heathrow 3 won't be built before the next election, and the Tories will keep to their 2010 manifesto commitment. But nobody seriously doubts that Osborne is hell-bent on having it built after 2015 to boost the economy.
While the Lib Dems fume about that, Clegg has been powerless to stop other Tory moves to tighten Cameron's grip on the delivery of policy. Michael Fallon, a hardline right-winger on the economy, was put into the Business Department to put pressure on Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable to accept more radical supply side measures to boost the economy.
And the investment banker Paul Deighton, who made such a success of the Olympic Games as chief executive of LOCOG, will come into the government in the New Year - with a spanking new peerage – to be Minister for Economic Delivery.
Having put a climate change sceptic, Owen Paterson, in charge of the environment - more shock horror for Lib Dems - Cameron calmly reinforced the point by making Nick Boles the planning minister in the same department.
Boles is on the record for dismissing the National Trust and others opposed to building on the green belt land - including Tory NIMBYs – as "hysterical, scare-mongering latter-day Luddites". His appointment leaves Lib Dems thinking, "So much for Cameron's boast that the coalition will be the greenest government ever".
The move of Chris Grayling to the Justice Department also heralds a much more hardline right-wing approach to crime and punishment than under flabby Ken Clarke, yesterday caught at the Oval basking in the sun at the cricket and thinking nice thoughts about helping George Osborne boost the economy.
How long will it be before Grayling dashes off a note to the Crown Prosecution Service saying there should be a presumption against prosecutions of householders for defending their property against burglars following the right-wing outrage at the couple arrested for allegedly firing a shotgun at burglars at their Midlands farm?
Former party leader Sir Menzies Campbell claimed last night that Lib Dems would keep an eye on developments to make sure that there was no swing to the right in policy. That is unlikely to fill Cameron with dread. A few policy punch-ups with Clegg and Co will suit Cameron nicely as he tries to convince his own side that he is more man than mouse.
Labour wags looked likely to greet Cameron's appearance at Prime Minister's Questions today with an outbreak of mouse squeaks. But they can't escape the fact that Cameron has stealthily used the shuffling of middle-ranking ministers to steer the Tory side of the government firmly to the right.
As Tim Montgomerie of Conservativehome, the grassroots Tory website, commented: "This reshuffle was primarily about putting the Conservative Party's best people in the places where the bottlenecks to growth are most serious."
The "shift to making-things-happen", says Montgomerie, is best embodied by the recruitment of Deighton as Minister for Economic Delivery.