Tom Richmond: Cameron should wait before shuffling his pack

Have your say

WHO would take over the running of the country if David Cameron became indisposed? Nick Clegg? William Hague perhaps? Or even George Osborne? In short, I do not see any potential Prime Minister in the making.

Equally, it is the same with the lower echelons of the Cabinet as reshuffle speculation grows ahead of next month’s local elections, and the potentially divisive AV referendum, when both coalition parties are expected to be bloodied.

Can you name a politician, currently outside the Cabinet, who could do a better job than any of the incumbents?

I thought not. The paucity of future political high-fliers is a worrying trend and reflective of the new class of professional politician – with little or no experience of real life.

Where are the captains of industry, or academic careerists, who then decide to enter politics later on? They’re not there because political parties are obsessed with age and placing a greater premium on the youthfulness of candidates rather than their experience.

As such, Cameron would probably be advised to avoid holding a reshuffle next month – even if a consequence is keeping an ineffective Minister, like the PM’s one-time mentor Andrew Lansley, at the Department of Health.

Reshuffles only work immediately after a General Election. As Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and, latterly, Gordon Brown discovered, they become increasingly troublesome, divisive and do not lead to better government.

One reason, for example, that pensions policy was sidelined, and the Ministry of Defence allowed to become “unfit for purpose”, is because Ministers never had time to get comfortable in the role and learn their new trade before they were shuffled onwards, upwards or sidewards.

Reshuffles are not government relaunches. They are an admission of weakness, invariably caused by the administration running into a period of instability – or a Minister being found to have breached rules, or conventions, governing their conduct.

Given Cameron’s angst when he had to reshuffle, less than a month into his premiership after the issue of expenses returned to haunt the combative (and impressive) Treasury chief secretary David Laws, the PM would be advised to wait.

The chances are that a Minister will resign, for whatever reason, in the next year – the law of political averages says so – and Cameron should act then. In the meantime, he should urge his Cabinet colleagues to raise their game, listen more and think through the consequences of their decisions.

For, if they properly road-tested policies before going public, many of the mistakes of the past 12 months could have been avoided – and Ministers would be in a position to grow into a job.

ONE Cabinet attendee who has among the toughest of tasks is Baroness Warsi, the Dewsbury peer who, as Tory chairman, is responsible for the party’s local election campaign and anti-AV stance.

Her assertion that AV will particularly benefit the British National Party could prove a risky strategy. In issuing such a warning, Warsi was questioning the intelligence of the electorate who are more than capable of thinking through the consequences of their voting intentions.

What she should be arguing for is a form of AV in which the minor parties have to achieve a certain proportion of the turnout, say five per cent, before second preference votes are distributed.

YVETTE Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary and Pontefract MP, has certainly been diligent in questioning the Government over the police cuts – and their impact on “front line” officers.

It’s a valid point, given that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is unable to define the “front line” as police chiefs across the region look at making efficiencies and other saving.

Yet Ms Cooper’s position would be helped if she could explain Labour’s position.

She said in last week’s Parliamentary debate: “Of course we want to see more police officers out on the beat.

“We also believe it is right for forces to do everything they can to improve their efficiency and to make sure they are supporting officers. However, in force after force and area after area we are seeing police officers, not just police staff, being lost: 12,500 officers to go.”

If this is so wrong, how does Ms Cooper intend to fund these 12,500 posts? Specific funding plans, rather than a re-run of her cliches about a Conservative-led government cutting too fast, and too hard, would be helpful – and enlightening.

AS the local elections approach, I was intrigued by the billet-doux from the Labour candidate standing in my area.

At no point did Mike King mention Labour’s policies – but there were three specific mentions of the Conservatives and he only referred to the Prime Minister, and his deputy, by their surnames.

Again, it reflected the hollowness of Labour under Ed Miliband.

ANN Widdecombe went down in my estimation when she appeared to bemoan David Cameron’s decision not to elevate her to the House of Lords.

I don’t blame him. The Upper House is full of failed politicians who continue to undermine its democratic accountability, hence why Nick Clegg needs to speed up his plans for an elected second chamber.

Anyway, I thought Widdecombe, a former Minister who failed in her bid to become Speaker, was more interested in her dancing career than contemporary politics?