U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is planning to reorganize his ministerial team after his summer break, seeking to get his coalition on track after months of U-turns and mutinies, said a person familiar with the matter.
Cameron sees the move as an opportunity to regain the initiative before the party conference season that begins in late September, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the plans are private.
Reshuffles are a piece of political theater in the U.K., with ministers walking up Downing Street to the prime minister’s London residence to be told of promotion or demotion. They’re complicated because most ministers have to be appointed from among the lawmakers in the House of Commons. Cameron’s task is trickier still, as his agreement with his Liberal Democrat coalition partners states they get a share of posts.
“At the moment, there’s a sense that the government has lost its narrative,” Peter Allen, a researcher into ministerial careers at the University of London’s Birkbeck College, said in an interview. “A reshuffle is a chance for a prime minister to stamp his identity on the government.”
The Mail on Sunday newspaper reported July 15 that Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne could be moved from his post if the U.K.’s credit rating is cut, swapping roles with Foreign Secretary William Hague.
In an interview published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper today, Cameron said he expects the government’s austerity program to narrow the budget deficit to extend through 2020.
“This is a period for all countries, not just in Europe but I think you will see it in America too, where we have to deal with our deficits and we have to have sustainable debts,” Cameron said. “I don’t see a time when difficult spending choices are going to go away.”
The coalition originally said its spending cuts would run through March 2015. Osborne extended the program for another two years in late 2011.
Once the Olympics are out of the way, the prime minister may move Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who faced calls to resign earlier this year after e-mails from an aide to a News Corp. lobbyist were released to a media-ethics inquiry. If Cameron wants to expand London’s Heathrow airport, he would need to replace Transport Secretary Justine Greening, who represents a district in the airport’s flight path and opposes such a move.
After almost a third of Conservative lawmakers rebelled last week over a proposed House of Lords revamp, Patrick McLoughlin, who as chief whip is responsible for party discipline, may be moved. Andrew Lansley, whose changes to the structure of the National Health Service, an institution that Cameron promised in opposition he wouldn’t restructure, have been opposed by doctors, could also be moved.
Since this year’s budget was presented in March, Cameron has backed down over plans to tax hot food and caravans, to cap tax relief on charitable donations, and to increase fuel duties. The political reversals were capped last week when Tory lawmakers refused to fast-track his bid to introduce elections to the Lords.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has to agree to moves involving his party.
David Laws, who was chief secretary to the Treasury for less than a month in 2010 before he became the coalition’s first resignation over his expenses, may be due the comeback that Cameron promised him when he quit.
Cameron, 45, has gone 1 1/2 years without a wholesale reorganization of ministers, longer than his two immediate predecessors.
During the 13 years Labour was in power under Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown, the government went through six defense secretaries. In one four-year period, three different people were home secretary, overseeing policing and security. Under Blair, John Reid held seven Cabinet-level posts in eight years, including Health, Defense and the Home Office.
The reshuffle is an opportunity for Cameron to punish the disloyal and reward the faithful among the lower ranks in his party. According to Philip Cowley, professor of politics at Nottingham University and an expert on parliamentary discipline, this needs to be finely judged.
“The first problem is simply that so many of them have rebelled now that if you say you’re only going to promote loyal people, you’re looking at a fairly small pool,” Cowley said. “The second problem is that if you exclude everyone who’s rebelled, you send a signal that there’s no hope. It’s very important that he sends a signal that redemption is possible, so long as you don’t go nuts.”