Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Politics of Opposition

A little hidden by the politics of another bank bailout, and certainly by the looming events in the USA, Cameron's reshuffle was hardly earth-shattering, but it was interesting. Apart from Ken Clarke's much heralded return, David Cameron has taken the opportunity to elevate Chris Grayling, Eric Pickles and Mark Francois. Grayling has had a pretty fast rise to this key post, and many party members will be looking to him to bring a bit of down-to-earth, right-wing common sense to the portfolio. He's been an impressive performer up to now - unshowy and effective in chasing down the government. He is not, I think, going to find Jacquie Smith a difficult adversary, but he may find it more challenging to generate credible Tory policies.

Pickles, many years ago, was a One Nation Chairman of the National Young Conservatives, and then a combative leader of Bradford City Council. The Conservative Home poll put him as the grassroots favourite for party chairman, the post he now holds, and he should be a lot less invisible than his troubled predecessor. Nick Robinson was very positive about him, but Nick and Eric go back a long way, to the dim past of National Young Conservative activities when they were leading lights of the then 'wet' leadership. Pickles was an eminence grise when Robinson was irritating the hell out of the right! As for Francois, he is a Bristol luminary who was at the heart of some of the Bristol controversies over Professor John Vincent. While then student union chairman Lembit Opik was sitting firmly on the fence and trying to be best friends with everyone, Francois was busily defending Vincent and the right of free expression. We've heard too little of him in the years since then, but his post in the shadow cabinet should give him a higher profile now.

Cameron has clearly decided to balance one left-wing bruiser with three right-wing ones.

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