The Government reshuffle, the first for this Administration, is the headline political news of the week. Under Blair they happened almost annually but Cameron thinks Ministers need longer to get on top of their responsibilities and frequent changes hinder this.
It might also be that he does not enjoy sacking people and some of the departing Ministers challenged his decision and tears were shed.
The Prime Minister’s aim was to reinvigorate the Government, bring in younger MPs and people with good communication skills. Failure to put across the Government’s message is a standard issue for unpopular Governments and there have been examples in the last two years. Andrew Lansley knows the health service well but failed to communicate the case for the changes he proposed and provoked criticisms that were not just from those whose vested interests his reforms threatened.
A larger concern is the increasing unpopularity of the Government’s economic performance. The Chancellor was booed at the Paralympics and the Coalition partners are well behind Labour in the polls. The Prime Minister would argue that the austerity measures were unavoidable given the budget deficit inherited from the previous Government. Public opinion recognised this in 2010 but the Government made the mistake of suggesting that they would sort the economy out by 2015. That was never likely. The problems in the Eurozone and its effects on UK exports, the chaos in the banking sector, high levels of consumer debt, the unemployment caused by public sector cuts combined to reduce effective demand, world recession and low levels of confidence amongst investors, mean that the current UK recession could take a decade to reverse.
This situation is well illustrated by the lack of rapid response to the measures the Chancellor has introduced. He has found £10 billion for new house building but property developers complain they are hampered by the complexities of the planning system. Mr Osborne responds with promises of cutting the red tape but that is not the real problem. The fourteen largest developers are said to have pockets of land, with planning permission, on which they could build 250,000 homes. Apparently they are waiting for land prices to rise before they start building in order to maximise their profits. That may be good capitalism but it is not what the economy needs now.
The Prime Minister’s most interesting appointment is that of Paul Deighton as a Treasury Minister responsible for infrastructure and economic delivery. He is currently the Chief Executive of the Olympics delivery organisation (Locog) and will be made a peer to bring him into Government to do for the economy what he has done so well for the Olympics. Governments that do not deliver what they promise lose elections. That is what has shaped this reshuffle, not some shift to the right suggested in the press.
Whatever the politicians say, there is no quick fix for the economy but it will come sooner if we all prioritise the common good above self-interest.