Caron Lindsay has kindly nominated me to play fantasy cabinet and suggest how the coalition cabinet might be reshuffled. But before naming names I thought it might be interesting to look at the make up of the current government.
According to the No 10 website there are 23 ‘full’ cabinet ministers, plus five who are ‘in attendance’, plus the Attorney General who also attends on an ad hoc basis.
Outside of the cabinet there are a further 97 ministers at various levels (including the six who attend the cabinet).
There are 18 ministries, plus the cabinet office (who service David Cameron), two leader’s officers (Commons and Lords), two sets of whips offices and the law offices.
So it’s easy to see how the tentacles of government reach into every corner of the political sphere and how difficult it is for backbenchers – with hugely limited resources in comparison – to call them to account.
So my first reshuffle would be a cull of ministries and ministers – particularly as the number of MPs are about to be reduced (Lords filibuster not withstanding). I’d also strengthen the power of select committees to make it easier for government to be properly held to account.
I’d abolish seven ministries that appear to duplicate other areas of government or where what little power they actually have could be exercised elsewhere:
· Northern Ireland
· Culture, Leisure and Sport
· Local Government
I’d create a new infrastructure department to oversee housing, transport, rural affairs, Olympics and strategic planning policy (basically the bits of the seven abolished ministries that can’t be done away with completely).
I’d merge Business Innovation and Skills (dropping the innovation bit as it’s not the government’s job to pick winners) with Education. I’d take the green stuff from DEFRA to a new Energy, Climate and Environment department.
The food agenda can be safely despatched to Brussels (CAP and tariffs etc) with food standards to local government
However the most glaring omission from the current governmental arrangements is support for the Deputy PM – the PM has the Cabinet Office so an Office of Deputy PM should be created to provide Nick with the policy, research and communications support that has been so obviously lacking over the past 9 months.
With a reduced number of portfolios I’d envisage a Cabinet of 19 split 15:4, with an additional 13 other Lib Dems serving as junior ministers. Sadly under my scheme Tory casualties would include Eric Pickles, Michael Gove and Caroline Spelman…
Obviously there would be Lib Dem casualties too, but I’d go further and bring in new blood and try to do something about the party’s lack of gender balance. So out would go Vince (once he’s smashed up the banks) – there’s a place for him on the Strictly Come Dancing judging panel. Chris Huhne could return to Brussels as UK commissioner and with the Scottish office gone Michael Moore could go back to looking rugged and sweet talking the ladies of Lauder.
I’d promote Sarah Teather to Secretary of State for the enlarged Environment department and Ed Davey to the new enlarged Business and Skills and Learning department.
Danny Alexander would stay at the Treasury.
I’d promote Norman Lamb from whip to head the ODPM and coordinate Lib Dem policy in government, ably assisted by Jo Swinson (with a particular remit to look at lifestyle issues) with the political grit provided by Lord Greaves (communications and campaigning)
There would be no change at Justice (Lord McNally as junior minister), Home Office (Featherstone), Defence (Harvey), Work and Pensions (Webb) and Health (Burstow), Norman Baker would switch to the new infrastructure department.
I’d bring in John Thurso into the Foreign Office to replace Jeremy Browne – for the beard if nothing else - (and because like many I’ve been deeply unimpressed by Browne).
I’d keep the whips – Alistair Carmichael and Mark Hunter – and David Heath in the Leader of the Commons’ office.
This would mean there would be a Lib Dem in every department – apart from International Development.
There would of course be one vacancy left and given the need for the parliamentary party to put the splits of the tuition fee debacle behind I would bolster the Whips Office (replacing Norman Lamb) with the inestimable Lord Bonkers – the party’s last remaining link to the Liberal landslide government of 1906, Bonkers is the epitome of loyalty to the party over the years, can recite the Areopagitica backwards and comes with unpaid support from Meadowcroft. I’d reckon he’d clampdown on the slightest sniff of rebellions as quickly as you can say ‘counterfactual’.