The global financial crisis hasn’t stopped the rumour mill going about Gordon’s forthcoming reshuffle (supposedly scheduled for this Friday), which ministers are no longer bothering to deny judging by their statements to the media (e.g. Geoff “My job is a matter for the PM” Hoon). Here’s some gossip, with my thoughts:
1) Is the reshuffle being delayed because ministers are threatening to resign? Plausible, I think. Make no mistake, there is a plot to unseat Brown, but it’s not easy to see. However, if you went to the Labour Party conference this week, it was easy to overhear journalists talking about it – and maybe even warning ministers about it. That’s what it looked like to me, anyway.
2) Is Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell threatening to quit rather than take a lesser job? I don’t know. But I would if I were him. His rise from mid-90s councillor to mid-2000s Cabinet minister has been fast and impressive; he’s still only 38, and widely recognised for his charisma and confidence. He looked pretty cheerful and relaxed at conference. Demotion would be both an insult and an injury to this powerful and probably influential minister. In which case he is perhaps more likely than not to stay where he is.
3) Are immigration minister Liam Byrne and Jim Murphy, the minister for Europe, likely to be promoted? Byrne, maybe. But Murphy? If conference chatter is to be believed, Murphy is the one man in the Cabinet Brown can’t trust! He is said to be the Blairite spider at the centre of the rebel web.
4) Will Jon Cruddas get a job? He was reportedly offered one last year and turned it down. But this year there might be a vacancy in the Department for Communities and Local Government. Housing minister Caroline Flint was the talk of conference – and the post-conference train trip – as the next minister to walk. Better, surely, for Brown to push her before she goes. If Flint really is minded to go – and I can’t say for sure, these ARE only rumours – then that would work against the other reported factors (above) which militate against a prompt reshuffle.
5) And what about John Hutton, the business secretary the unions love to hate and the centre-left MPs love to criticise? Rumour has it that he has few friends in the cabinet. But to remove a figure like him – whom one union boss called for to be sacked only this summer – would be seen by many MPs as a) caving in to the unions and b) a full frontal attack on the Blairites. So I think he’s safe.
But with all eyes on the Tories this week, maybe neither side will make a move…