I rarely blog about party politics, largely because it often seems so trivial and irrelevant to business or the environment movement. Too often, politicians are an obstacle rather than a catalyst to sustainability. And you can count the number of parliamentarians who ‘get it’ on the fingers of one hand. Labour’s system of electing its Shadow Cabinet when in Opposition has produced two virtually unknown politicians shadowing DEFRA and DECC. Chris Huhne is clearly struggling to make good on the Coalition’s pledge to be the ‘greenest government ever’. The Green Investment Bank idea has yet to persuade environmentalists or investors. And cuts to the Carbon Trust, the abolition of the Sustainable Development Commission and the recent debacle over the forest sell-off don’t bode well.
At some point, probably after the May local elections and Alternative Vote referendum, Cameron (and Clegg) will presumably hold a reshuffle to refresh the troops, cut out the dead wood, and reward loyalty. Cameron’s problem is that his room for manoeuvre is limited. He can’t start sacking the friends who helped him to Number 10. A significant chunk of the government must be filled by Liberal Democrats (where talent is at a premium). He also has the further complication of a small but determined group of Conservative backbenchers who are unhappy with the concessions being made to the Lib Dems, who have always loathed Lib Dems, and who feel the Tories’ ‘natural’ right wing tendency is being eroded by the deals having to be cut with Clegg and his gang. By the same token, there are many Lib Dems who don’t see what their ideological principles are gaining from being in Government, and who will almost certainly topple their Leader if the country votes against voting reform in May. If Clegg can’t deliver voting reform, they argue, there’s no point, against the backdrop of tuition fees, in propping up the Tories. The likely decimation of Lib Dem councillors in the local elections won’t make them better disposed to their party’s leaders either. It’s a mess.
On reshuffle day, Cameron’s wiggle room is therefore tight. He’ll be looking for expendable ministers whose contribution to the ‘Big Society’ has either been small or embarrassing. More than ever, Cabinet members will be judged on how deftly they handled the politics and how successfully they built coalitions around government priorities, steered Bills through Parliament and secured hits against Ed Miliband’s thus far lamentable Opposition.
If this analysis is right, you wouldn’t want to be Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary. The forest sell-off, an example of the Big Society that went calamitously wrong almost from day one, and resulted in the biggest U-Turn yet from the Government, has won her no friends in the country. Worse for her is that she will inevitably now be seen as a liability in both 10 and 11 Downing Street. If I had to make one prediction about the reshuffle, it’s this. Spelman will be chopped sooner than the trees she wanted to sell.