What is so depressing about reshuffles is that politicians see it – as do the journalists who slavishly report it – as all about themselves, their careers, their prospects , their GPT (Got Political Talent), regardless of what might be the consequential impacts on the British people.
The Prime Minister’s office issues a press notice setting out the imaginary virtues of the new appointees, copied almost word for word by the fawning journalists in attendance, with scarcely a nod to the factionalism that really lies behind the carve-up. It is about reinforcing the Prime Minister’s position which in this case means bending to the Tory Right that is the main driving force behind the government’s policy direction and which has already caused a weak Prime Minister to change course several times.
The non-removal of Osborne is a major disaster for Britain, and arguably the single most likely event (or rather non-event) precipitating a Tory defeat at the next election. But Cameron is umbilically tied to Osborne, and for Cameron that political fact overrides any consequential effects for the economy or its (shrinking) workforce.
Hunt lied to Parliament about his relationship with Murdoch and should have been summarily sacked, but has actually been promoted on the specious grounds that he can ‘focus on a clear political message’ – code for a Cameroon loyalist who will do whatever he’s told. Grayling is a thug who will play to the Sun, Mail and Telegraph by ratcheting up the prison population. Paterson is a climate change denier who will play to business by shutting down windpower and stoking up the exploitation of shale gas.
This is turning into a nasty government serving narrow right-wing causes and abandoning the broader interests of the British people as a whole. Punishment will override rehabilitation, commercialism will trump environmental concern, benefits will be drastically cut to drive people into jobs when there are no jobs available, housing will be an instrument of the market and not of human requirements, the health and education services will be marketised irrespective of the needs of low-paid households, and the ethic of public service and concern for others regardless of money is being snuffed out everywhere.
This abandonment of the magical centre ground of British politics by the Tories may bring relief to Labour. But Labour for its part still has to learn that one cannot slide past an election purely on the back of Tory failures, only on the basis of a positive appeal that inspires enough people to vote for a vision they believe in. The Tories have blown it, but Labour has yet to win it.