David Cameron’s desperate coalition reshuffled its ministers this week, to bring in some “fresh faces”. But they couldn’t shake off their crisis.
Andrew Lansley lost his job as health secretary, following anger at the government’s NHS privatisation plans. The news was illustrated with pictures of him being confronted by protesters.
Environment secretary Caroline Spelman was dropped too. Her card had been marked since outrage at the government’s plan to sell off the forests resulted in its first U-turn.
Meanwhile deputy prime minister Nick Clegg is spending most of his time fighting off challenges to his leadership of the Liberal Democrats.
This week the Tories even made him stand up in the House of Commons to kill off his own House of Lords reform plans. “I am not as happy as members behind me are,” Clegg whined, referring to the Tories. It looked like a government on the rocks—but it was a Tory right on the rise.
It was the right that picked up the most posts in the reshuffle, as Cameron tried to placate the party’s nastier base. Those they dislike, such as Kenneth Clarke and Baroness Warsi, were demoted. The cabinet is now whiter, maler and posher than ever before.
Welfare minister Chris Grayling was promoted to justice secretary. He is best known as the target of protests over workfare, when the government was forced into retreat after a left-led campaign. Farcically Grayling claimed that the Socialist Workers Party had “hacked” his emails.
When it comes to “justice” his record is even worse. Grayling is the Tory who in 2010 was recorded saying that Christian hotel owners should “have the right to exclude a gay couple”.
Other promoted ministers bring their own baggage. Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people who Remploy workers call “the factory killer”, became culture secretary.
Jeremy Hunt, the “minister for Murdoch”, replaces Lansley at health. And several “rising stars” of the Tory right were handed junior minister posts.
David Laws, the Tories’ favourite Lib Dem, managed to sneak back in too. The cuts enthusiast had to quit less than a month into the government after it was revealed he had fiddled more than £40,000 expenses.
Cameron has hidden him away in the education ministry, but he will reportedly have a larger “cross-governmental” role in the coalition.
The failing coalition has already been relaunched, or even “rebooted”, several times. The reshuffle is just the latest attempt.
Yet in reality little has changed, with the top jobs—and the policies—staying the same. For one, chancellor George Osborne stayed in his job—even though polls show the axe-wielder is by far the most unpopular minister in the cabinet.
It will take more than a reshuffle to save this weak, nasty government.
Some 80,000 people booed chancellor George Osborne at the Olympic stadium this week. “And those are the first boos that we’ve heard at the Paralympics”, said one TV commentator.
“I was amazed to find it was not only me who was jeering,” said Yuri Prasad, who was among the crowds. “Everyone joined in. And then we all looked at each other thinking, did 80,000 people just do that?”
Osborne tried to laugh along, but soon started to look pretty uncomfortable as the noise continued. Yuri went on, “The response reflects how wide-spread the hatred of the Tories is, and how appalled many people are at the attacks on disabled people’s benefits.”
Education secretary Michael Gove has admitted that students taking GCSE English exams in June were treated “in a way that wasn’t fair or appropriate”. They had to get a higher score to achieve a C grade than students who took them in January.
One student told Socialist Worker that he’d been predicted a C grade in English but received a D. “I’ll have to negotiate to get onto the course I want,” he said. “It’s not fair,” said another. “What good does it do to mark us down? It just makes people want to give up.”
Sean Vernell teaches GCSE English at City & Islington College. He said, “We should put pressure on the government to reverse the grade boundary changes so that students get the grades they deserve. However we need to go further—and scrap exams as the main form of assessment.”