THE SIGNIFICANCE of William Hague's second Shadow Cabinet reshuffle lies more in who has left the front bench than in those who have been promoted to it. The voluntary departures of Sir Norman Fowler, Michael Howard and Gillian Shephard gave Mr Hague the chance to recast the Conservative team in his own image. The involuntary resignation of Peter Lilley has completed that process. For two years Mr Hague has tried to balance the need to distance himself from his party's recent past with the fact that many faces from that era remained in prominent positions. He has finally escaped from this dilemma.
OF THE team he inherited from John Major, only Sir George Young survives. More than before, this will be William Hague's show, as fits the reputation of one who, on Europe, dared and won. But dared and triumphed? Let's have some respect for the language.
WILLIAM HAGUE needed to clear the Shadow Cabinet of the dead wood from the Major years. Why he even thought twice about removing from the Tory front bench the likes of the deeply unpopular Michael Howard is a mystery. Perhaps Mr Hague was insecure in his first couple of years and wanted a few older faces with a little experience around. He no longer needs them - if he ever did. After his showing in the European elections this week, the Conservative leader is in a position of greater strength than ever before in his leadership. This, sadly is not saying much.
THE CONSERVATIVES cannot go into the next election as a single-issue force. They should have much to offer on schools and marriage and welfare and England, if Andrew Lansley can give their slow-breathing policy review the kiss of life. But national independence, and the fight to save the pound, will be the crux of the Tory campaign. The second point about the new shadow team is that it is made in Mr Hague's image and likeness, and that he will lead it himself. He will mastermind the policy review. And he will send out John Maples, the new shadow foreign secretary, to put a smooth gloss on a hard-edged European policy
MR WILLIAM Hague was able to launch the reshuffle of his Shadow Cabinet today from a position of greater political strength than he has yet known as leader. His record to date does not suggest that he is teeming with ideas; on the contrary, he exudes a curious emptiness. His move in taking over the reins of policy making is presumably intended to demonstrate that he is in charge, which in turn suggests a continuing sense of insecurity. If his party's thinking has advanced no further in say, a year from now, there will be no one else to take the blame. In the past, Mr Hague's record as a picker of key people has been poor. If he can still make no impact after a win in the European elections and a reshuffle to clear out dead wood, the Tories will be in a dire state indeed.
WITH THE reshuffle, Mr Hague has brought into his Shadow Cabinet new people who may be talented and may shine, while moving some round pegs to round holes. Ann Widdecombe gets a chance to be more illiberal than Jack Straw as his home office shadow. the departure of her former boss, Michael Howard, along with Sir Norman Fowler and Gillian Shephard, emphasises that this is now Mr Hague's own team and not just a bunch of stragglers from John Major's defeated army. In short, the Tory leader has had a wonderful week: a young leader, flushed with victory, puts together a fresh team and makes a clean break with the past (Bagehot)Reuse content