Reshuffle involves two men who wouldn’t take a stand

By Martin Bright, September 6, 2012

In many ways, David Cameron’s first reshuffle was a non-event. Since coming to power two years ago, the Prime Minister has made it plain that he is aiming for consistency and continuity. He has refused to indulge in the manic reshuffling of his predecessors, believing coalition politics to be unstable enough even without a constant change of personnel.

So in the major offices of state, there is no change at all. William Hague’s Foreign Office team remains in its entirety and many supporters of Israel will be relieved to see that Alistair Burt will be able to build on his reputation and expertise as Middle East Minister.

The arrival of Baroness Warsi as an additional minister of state in the department is an intriguing development, and no one should make the mistake of underestimating her influence since her demotion. She has some forthright views on Kashmir and the Muslims of South Asia. From her position at the FCO she will be in a position to develop a power base to provide a significant counter-balance to the neo-conservative Gove tendency within government.

Her removal as joint party chairman means that there are now two Jewish chairs of the Conservative Party — Andrew Feldman and Grant Shapps — so plenty for the conspiracy theorists to chew on there. The reality is that this a straightforward promotion for a man who has won admiration within the party for his handling of the housing brief and his assured media appearances. Mr Shapps, it is felt, will be a safer pair of hands fighting the government’s corner across a range of policy issues. Although he has recently been at the centre of controversy over business dealings allegedly carried out under an assumed name, Mr Shapps is generally seen as just the man needed to revive the party’s grass-roots in the run-up to the next election.

The new party chairman is not known as a particularly active player in Conservative Friends of Israel and he has not chosen to speak out on community issues. But he was president of BBYO as a young man, keeps kosher and once told the JC that he felt “totally Jewish”.

Elsewhere, Jeremy Hunt’s replacement of Andrew Lansley as Health Secretary, sees one man who refused to take a principled stand on the boycott of Israel, supplanted by another man who refused to take a principled stand on the minute’s silence for the victims of the 1972 Munich Olympic atrocity.

Ironically, the former Culture Secretary’s promotion came as a result of his handling of the Olympic Games, although we can safely assume Mr Cameron did not seek the opinion of the Munich widows on the matter.

The elevation of Mr Hunt does not bode well for the Department of Health’s ongoing dispute with Israeli negotiations expert Moty Cristal, whose invitation to speak to NHS managers was withdrawn following the threat of a Unison boycott. If you are seeking evidence of an unwavering moral compass, it’s probably best to look a little further than the new Health Secretary.

But this was a reshuffle for internal Tory consumption, designed to reassure by shifting the balance of the government to the right. It said very little about the role of the LibDems in the coalition.

Last updated: 11:50am, September 6 2012