Leading article: Changing places, not policy

A mere reshuffle will not solve the coalition's problem with balancing the books

Share

David Cameron and Nick Clegg intend to open the new political season with a reshuffle, as we report today. Which might be quite interesting, but it is unlikely to solve any of the Government's serious problems. Journalists and backbench MPs often demand reshuffles as a way of refreshing a government's image, but these rarely have the desired effect.

Most of Tony Blair's reshuffles were botched affairs, many of them compromised by faction-fighting with his Chancellor. The only recent reshuffle that did improve a government's image was Gordon Brown's theatrical coup in bringing his enemy Peter Mandelson back into the Cabinet in 2008.

So the Prime Minister has been wise, even if his hand has been stayed by the complexities of coalition, to put off this reshuffle as long as he has. Apart from the three changes forced on him by events that were navigated with the minimum of disruption by the promotions of Danny Alexander, Justine Greening and Ed Davey, one of the admirable features of this government has been that ministers have been given time to get on with their jobs.

However, it makes sense, at roughly half-time, to take stock and to give new MPs, especially from the 2010 intake, a chance to shine. Provided, that is, that the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister do not expect such a rearrangement to restore the sense of direction that has been lost since the Budget six months ago. Because, unless Mr Cameron intends to move his ally George Osborne out of the Treasury, a mere reshuffle will not solve the Government's basic problem.

For the policy on which the coalition united, of trying to balance the Government's books in a single parliament, does not appear to be working. Rather, it seems to have helped to push the economy into a double-dip recession that might otherwise have been avoided.

In recent weeks, Tory unease about the economy has erupted in the form of a curious row about airports. This intersected briefly with reshuffle speculation, with the suggestion that Ms Greening, the Transport Secretary who opposes Heathrow expansion, would be moved – a suggestion that had the effect of forcing Mr Cameron to confirm that there would be no third runway.

This can be considered displacement activity for the simple reason that new airport capacity, even if it were a good idea, would take a long time to plan and build, and would have no effect on economic activity for at least a decade.

Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg face threats to their positions on a rather shorter timetable. Unhappy Tory MPs have spent the summer wondering about Boris Johnson, while Vince Cable has more recently done his John Inman impression – "I'm free!" – for the benefit of despairing Liberal Democrat MPs and activists.

With the coalition already in trouble, now that Mr Clegg has withdrawn his party's support for more equal-sized constituencies, such distractions are likely to get worse. Any Tory or Lib Dem who thinks that the voters know the difference between differentiation and disunity will probably receive their answer in the Corby by-election in November.

All of which puts the greatest pressure, paradoxically, on the least newsworthy of the three main party leaders: Ed Miliband. Never mind the reshuffle; this political season is the chance for the Labour leader to set out his alternative.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary