There’s a great deal of chatter over the anticipated Cabinet re-shuffle. Back from holiday, the Prime Minister has an awful lot to think about, but I hope he finds time to step back from the question of who to put where, to take a glance at the bigger picture facing his crew. What the country, the Conservative party and the captain of the ship needs now is not so much a re-shuffle as a re-think. The polls tell a consistent story and point to one inevitable conclusion. Re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic will do nothing to alter the impression that the ship has lost its way. It's a change in direction which is needed and wanted.
I can think of two pressing areas where the Prime Minister should consider an immediate about-turn – and both concern his relationships management: with the Liberal Democrats, and with the wider Conservative party family, including his backbenches. It may have been right to create a coalition after the election, but the current set-up isn’t working. The Prime Minister and his most enthusiastic disciples have allowed their appetite for indulging the infantile behaviour of their coalition partners to get the better of them. The LibDem minority has run ragged over the government in a manner not remotely justified by the level of their electoral support. When will the leadership wake up to their responsibility as the leading partner? Allowing the LibDems to have their way in a hopeless effort to avert yet another puerile tantrum, whilst at the same time ignoring the pressing needs of an economy struggling to raise itself from base camp, does nothing to engender good will from those who pay the price.
My point is that Mr Cameron should never have hitched his star to any of the self-indulgent lunacy that has been characteristic of the unreasonable demands of his coalition partners. It was always going to fail, and has created unnecessary distance between him and the country. Why did he not put his foot down and assert his position, firstly, as Prime Minister, and secondly, as leader of the Conservative party? What are his true priorities? It seems that appeasing the childish tit-for-tat approach to politics that is the entire Liberal Democrat mindset has dominated his thoughts for far too long. The country needs a full-time Prime Minister and not a chamber-maid for a marginal, irrelevant pressure group who have got him in a virtual arm-lock with a constant stream of threats to abandon ship.
So the re-shuffle is an opportunity for the Prime Minister to re-define his coalition. His Cabinet must be able to show an unstinting focus on the critical needs of the economy and an ability to achieve growth -- and soon. It is time for the Prime Minister to put the country before the political needs of the coalition, and deliver policies that will create prosperity. If that means abandoning Vince Cable, or upsetting the balance in Clegg’s clandestine playground, so be it.
And whilst he has reform on his mind, Mr Cameron should start to re-build the damaged relationships between himself and supporters of his own party. It’s time to stop treating his backbenches and his party as an unnecessary inconvenience, and demonstrate a genuine willingness to engage in a grown-up conversation. On Europe, on gay marriage and on Lords’ reform, the Prime Minister has chosen to set himself against the instincts of his party and he has consistently failed to listen. He marched proudly towards defeat on the third of these, and was forced to retreat in a humiliating eleventh-hour change of course. Were he to have shown a modicum of respect for his wider party – who are, afterall, the link with the country at large – he might just have surprised himself at how much they have to offer, and the positive impact it might have had on his own political fortunes. Ken Clarke might believe that applying traditional Conservative principles risk harming the party’s brand, but it’s actually the reverse which is true. It is the Government itself that is creating toxicity through grubby politicking and a wilful disregard for the party's traditional values.
Some of the Westminster commentators have chosen to draw the analogy between the Prime Minister’s current reshuffle predicament with the actions and fate of the Captain of the Titanic. Mr Cameron has juxtaposed his own stance in contrast with that of his party and the country too often and for too long. He might believe the fiction that it is virtuous to set himself against his colleagues and support base, but if his message is to be that 'the ship has only stopped to take on ice', rather than alter its course, the fate can only be failure. Mr Cameron needs to take meaningful action to steer the ship to new waters, and the re-think should drive the re-shuffle.