A reshuffle for a new chapter

This reshuffle gives the government the energy, ideas and personnel to deliver, to get on and do. In the ongoing narrative David Cameron has turned the page to a new chapter

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Same narrative, different energy?
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Ed Staite
On 6 September 2012 10:42

David Cameron is a mouse and a ditherer, or a man obsessed with desperately lurching to the right while shunning ethnic minorities and women. That summarises the analysis of Tuesday's reshuffle from many of our most high-profile political watchers.

People – particularly political journalists – have short memories. In their desire – with some an obsession – to understand where in the "political narrative" we currently find ourselves, they frequently fail to look beyond the next page of their fairytale or indeed remember what has already happened in the story. Their relentless focus on the process of politics leads them to question whether the correct strategy is in place or if any strategy exists at all.

Focusing on strategy is a misnomer. It sounds good but the tactics are what deliver. This is what Tuesday's reshuffle was all about but few are able, or want, to see this.

At the time of the next election the significance of the reshuffle will hopefully be felt but its impact may be significant for far longer than that. Those who worked for the Conservatives over the period of the 2005 General Election and over the following years appreciate the impact David Cameron had on the party. His strategy, battling for the leadership, securing his authority and through the years of opposition was clear. Despite the ebb and flow of events he took a long term view of what had to be delivered.

Beneath the strategy came the tactics which those, like me, toiling away in Conservative Campaign HQ, implemented day after day in the relentlessness of opposition. The smoothies at his campaign launch, the new party logo, the commitment to ring-fencing aid, the huskies, the wind turbine on his house were all tactical ways of illustrating his strategy of modernisation. For some of these he was ridiculed but all were well lit sign-posts for the electorate saying "we have changed".

Until now this facing up to and overcoming the biggest challenge over-shadowing the Conservative Party – illustrated consistently by polling saying the electorate thought us "out of touch" or "nasty" – is arguably Cameron's greatest achievement which is yet to be matched in government.

Now the challenge, as it has been since May 2010, is the economy. The one consistent area of agreement between David Cameron and Nick Clegg has been the economy. Arguably it is the glue which binds, the ointment that soothes when the Coalition is stretched. It is the reason the Coalition exists. Not boundary changes, electoral reform, or NHS modernisation. The economy.

Now look to the changes made in the reshuffle: was it a "lurch to the right" or a reshuffle to dramatically boost not just short term growth but long term economic competitiveness?

In just the same way Cameron took a long view in opposition to meet his challenge head-on, he has done the same this week to boost the implementation of policies which will mean the economic challenge is met.

The movement, or promotion, of a handful of individuals is aimed at giving a stronger focus on delivery on the economy enabling the tactics and delivery to match a strategy which hasn't changed.

A quick look through some of the changes in personnel confirms this: Ken Clarke given a free role to assist George Osborne and deliver growth; Matthew Hancock and Michael Fallon to push and deliver business friendly policies to create jobs and boost productivity; a new open-mind on airport capacity in the South-East; Mark Prisk given the housing brief who, in opposition, developed radical new ideas on how our towns and cities should be developed to cut crime, increase productivity, aid our quality of life, and help the environment; Nick Boles to planning with an appreciation of how this affects businesses and competitiveness; and a new Treasury minister in Paul Deighton who knows what it takes to deliver.

With these individuals now in place, think-tanks, economic commentators, and business organisations should stop calling for "a positive economic vision" or a "new economic strategy" and, instead, measure progress by how people such as these perform.

This is where it actually matters. Talk to ministers and special advisers (of the Conservative variety) and they have been at the end of their tethers for too long. As veteran Labour advisers will knowingly tell you, fighting – and fighting is the right word – the Civil Service is a full-time job. Something required if delivery of policy is to be achieved.

With the Coalition, on top of this daily battle with Sir Humphrey, add in the constant undermining of purpose by Lib Dem advisers and ministers desperate to differentiate or merely scupper what are seen as "Conservative" rather than "Coalition" policies.

The focus of the government has not changed but its ability to take on the biggest challenge facing it and this country has. This reshuffle gives the government the energy, ideas and personnel to deliver, to get on and do. In the ongoing narrative David Cameron has turned the page to a new chapter.

Ed Staite is an international communications and campaign consultant

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