Thursday, 6 September 2012

Cameron's refurbished cabinet.

If you took a spirit level to the Prime Minister’s shiny new cabinet, you might find it leaning to the right. Emerging refreshed from its first ministerial make-over, the foundations are familiar, but the new paintwork may look a darker hue of blue.

Incoming Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is an acknowledged eurosceptic, so expect enough battling with Brussels to satisfy even the most brazen backbencher. Chris Grayling is the robust replacement for Ken Clarke as Justice Minister, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer is perhaps a tad too combustible to leave wandering the chambers unchallenged, so becomes a ‘minister without portfolio’.  Sounding much like a poet without a pen, this roving brief may yet serve to support the current incumbent of No.11, depending on the length of his leash.

After recent healthcare reforms, one might struggle to find a less popular minister than the outgoing Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, except perhaps his replacement, Jeremy Hunt. A serial survivor, he has deftly emerged from accusations of ministerial code violations, and inappropriate proximity to press impresarios, briefly basked in the reflected glory of the London Olympics and promptly landed a promotion. Deserved reward or poisoned chalice? Maybe both.

The most controversial casualty of the cabinet cull could be Justine Greening. After just ten months as Transport Secretary, she’s clearing her desk, her thinly veiled frustration shared in typically magnified manner by Boris Johnson. As MP for Putney-on-flight-path, Ms Greening was obliged to oppose a third Heathrow runway, considered closer to the Boris Island brigade, advocates of an airport in the Thames estuary. The Mayor will naturally miss a well-placed proponent, and suggested the reshuffle showed a Downing Street thawing towards Heathrow expansion.

If that were the case, then Justine Greening was a curious choice to begin with, given the location of her constituency. A cynic might assert that at the time of her appointment then, the headlock from the airport lobby was notably looser. And so, against the backdrop of mumbled confirmations of manifesto commitments, an independent review into airport capacity has been birthed, and the new Transport Secretary will be Patrick McLoughlin, whose attitude to the Heathrow expansion appears agnostic. Conspiracy theorists may yet have cause to self-congratulate.

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