Cameron’s reshuffle: cowardice or sound tactics?

The impact of David Cameron’s controversial cabinet reshuffle continues, with the demotion of Michael Gove from education minister to chief whip creating the most heated debate. “With less than ten months to go to polling day”, says James Forsyth in The Spectator, it just shows that “politics trumps policy”.

Cameron has demonstrated “his willingness to sacrifice even his closest friends to the electorate”. It’s certainly true that Gove polled badly with focus groups, says James Kirkup in The Daily Telegraph. In the era of ‘big data’, the “poll of Damocles is forever suspended above” candidates in seats the party is targeting to win or hold. Gove was seen as “a bit weird and off-putting”, particularly by women with young families.

But “there is more to politics than tactics”, says an editorial in The Sunday Times. “Governments need to demonstrate their purpose.” By moving “one of the genuine radicals in his government”, Cameron risks “leaving the Conservative party without a vision”. And surely “the public-relations-driven cynicism of Cameron’s reshuffle is so blatant that it will disgust rather than inspire”, says Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail. In truth, Gove’s reforms “were greatly overrated”, but at least he “got himself disliked by the right people”. Meanwhile, by choosing “cheap, superficial cosmetic change… the prime minister has shown himself a disloyal weakling” in the face of the pollsters.

Those accusing Cameron of cowardice forget “that even their great heroine, Margaret Thatcher, moved controversial ministers off the front line” come election time, says Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer. And if the move was a political ploy, then the signs are it is working, says The Daily Telegraph’s Matthew Holehouse. The Conservatives’ ratings on education have climbed to the highest level for two and a half years, according to the first poll since Gove was removed.

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