Donald Macintyre's Sketch: This reshuffle was not quite ‘The Night of the Long Knives 2’


It was the then Liberal MP Jeremy Thorpe who said of Harold Macmillan’s famously brutal 1962 reshuffle that “greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life”.

Given the real-time role played by twitterdom today – the Prime Ministerial tweets that announced each change and the attendant commentary – it’s sad that no one has come up with anything as good to describe David Cameron’s Cabinet reconstruction almost exactly 52 years later.

For from the moment soon after 8am that Michael Gove drove up to No 10 – a mere 12 hours after the announcement that William Hague would no longer be Foreign Secretary  – and then left more discreetly by another door, it was clear that this was going to be a lot bigger than expected.

But how big historically? In his “night of the long knives” Macmillan sacked six Cabinet ministers, including Chancellor Selwyn Lloyd, the colleague he most wanted to shed. As the late Alan Clark would write, SuperMac – as he no longer seemed to be – “decided to drown Lloyd’s cries of protests by committing a general massacre”.

But despite comparisons with July 1962 – including by disgruntled Tory MPs – only three actual Cabinet members have lost their jobs, and one of them, Gove, has stayed in government as Chief Whip,

Secondly, Cameron is not immediately threatened, unlike the 68-year-old Macmillan who explained that “we need a new team of younger men” – apart from himself of course. Note the “men”.

There was no Nicky Morgan or pink-jacketed Liz Truss to walk into Downing street for their big promotions; no Esther McVey to pirouette for the cameras after hearing she would be attending Cabinet as a non-member.

A closer comparison may be Margaret Thatcher’s 1989 reshuffle, which saw two Cabinet ministers sacked and two leaving voluntarily. Like William Hague, Geoffrey Howe went from the Foreign Office to be Leader of the Commons, though under semi-public protest. A main reason for Thatcher’s own resignation the following year – after a decade in office – would be the departure of a deeply discontented Howe. Hague, by contrast seems content; whether the same can be said for Gove is highly debatable.

Gove demoted, one view is that Theresa May’s future leadership candidacy has been strengthened. Yet no Conservative in her job has ever become Prime Minister. Tory history is littered with ex-Home Secretary PMs-who-never-were: R A Butler (probably given the job by Macmillan in 1957 for that very reason), Douglas Hurd, Ken Clarke...

Ah, Ken Clarke. Other ministers of Cabinet ability lost their jobs to Cameron’s knife, Damian Green and David Willets among them. But for all the excitement in the media-political complex, few, any more than their replacements, are well known.

Clarke is, at least to older voters. Since this is the first Tory government since 1972 not to include him, his departure is quite a moment.

After typical sideswipes at Euroscepticism and “lightweight PR people who want us to utter slogans all the time”, Clarke remarked on the BBC Today programme that ”the major parties” would recover their ability to attract people “to bother to vote for them” by “treating the nation in a grown-up way and addressing political issues in straightforward language and giving their honest opinions”.

Hard to hope for in an election relentlessly pitting “hardworking people” and “the long-term economic plan” against “one nation Labour” and “the cost of living crisis”.

But if he’s right, he will, at 74, have proved to be among the most modern of politicians.

scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape