Reshuffle round-up: it looks like good news for Swinson & Laws

by Stephen Tall on August 27, 2012

There’s been plenty of reshuffle chit-chat overt the past few weeks, much of it speculative. However, the Sunday papers appears to included some pretty well-sourced information which went beyond the usual space-filling ‘who knows?’, and appears to suggest good news for both Jo Swinson and David Laws — both of whom enjoyed strong support in our recent survey of members’ preferred back-bencher promotions.

First, The Observer reported that David Cameron’s reshuffle will bring whips back to the fore, with an enhanced whips office incorporating both old-handers and young-turks to help the Tory leader re-assert a grip on his increasingly assertive back-benchers. The paper also notes the return to ministerial office of David Laws, a move which the Mail says would be supported by the public according to one poll:

The poll finds strong support for Mr Laws being given a job that would allow him to help Mr Osborne pull the country out of recession – for example by simply being given his old job back, or by being allocated a ‘roving’ brief that would include an economic portfolio. A total of 44 per cent of voters agree with the idea compared with 16 per cent who disagree. Among Conservative voters, 55 per cent want Mr Laws to help Mr Osborne – close to the 62 per cent figure recorded among Lib Dem voters.

That said, the poll is by new-and-largely-untested polling company Survation; and the question appears to have been worded in such a way that those who voiced support for David Laws may well have felt they were expressing dissatisfaction with George Osborne.

Secondly, The Independent also reports the Laws-to-return theme, and says he will have a non-voting seat at the cabinet, most probably within the free-ranging Cabinet Office department. But it adds some insight into other potential Lib Dem moves:

Jo Swinson, Mr Clegg’s senior ministerial aide, is expected to be the most high-profile Lib Dem promotion in next month’s reshuffle, with a move to replace Lynne Featherstone at the Home Office. Ms Swinson, who co-founded the Campaign for Body Confidence, would take control of the equalities brief, although Lib Dem strategists are keen that she also get a grip on law and order policy. Ms Featherstone is expected to remain in government, having impressed Mr Clegg in the past two and a half years. Lib Dem ministers believed to be vulnerable include Andrew Stunell, the Communities minister, and Lord McNally, the Justice minister.

Reshuffles are mostly just an excuse for Westminster ‘who’s up/down’ gossip. It certainly looks like my hope of single-party departments is unlikely to see the light of day.

The one substantive policy-related aspect to the reshuffle (assuming, and I do, neither George Osborne nor Vince Cable is moved) is the fate of transport secretary Justine Greening, who has vowed opposition to a third runway at Heathrow which would impact on her Putney, Roehampton and Southfields constituency.

A straight job-swap with, for instance, Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt – whose job it will be to receive the Leveson Report on media regulation — would potentially solve two headaches for David Cameron. However, it will open up another front of opposition with the Lib Dems, which strongly oppose Heathrow expansion.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.