A government reshuffle has long been penned in for 2012, the middle year of this Parliament. Half-way through Parliament, with the Olympics and many major pieces of legislation on the statute book, always made a natural reshuffle point.
Add in the government’s recent difficulties, the Leveson Inquiry and today’s elections, and the political gossip is of a reshuffle sooner than the post-Olympics dates people were previously speculating over.
Senior Lib Dem sources I’ve spoken to are not expecting a quick post-election reshuffle, but of course that decision is primarily down to David Cameron.
One factor which always features in reshuffles is the question of whether moving faces around can improve a party’s communications. Are there under-performing ministers who need removing due to their low public profile, or star performers deserving of promotion as they are showing how they can turn even a junior post into a publicity boon for their party?
Quantity is not always the same as quality of course, but here is how the Liberal Democrat MPs in government have been shaping up over the last three months (taking the volume of coverage they have received in major UK news and business media outlets, as defined by Factiva):
- Nick Clegg - 2,445
- Vince Cable -1,380
- Danny Alexander - 498
- Ed Davey - 394
- Michael Moore -293
- Lynne Featherstone - 152
- Steve Webb - 143
- Norman Baker - 109
- Paul Burstow -106
- Jeremy Browne - 88
- Sarah Teather - 77
- Norman Lamb - 67
- Jo Swinson - 59
- Nick Harvey - 37
- David Heath - 23
- Andrew Stunell - 16
- Alistair Carmichael - 5
- Mark Hunter - 3
No surprise that the top five places are taken by the five Liberal Democrat Cabinet members. Her push for equal marriage reforms has helped put Lynne Featherstone top of the list of non-Cabinet members, whilst Health Minister Paul Burstow’s mid-table ranking is a mixed blessing. He may be a minister in a hugely important area, but given the level of controversy attracted by Andrew Lansley and the Health and Social Care Act, keeping his name out of the news has much to commend it.
At the bottom of the table are two whips, appropriately embracing the low profiles befitting the role.
And as for the man who is an almost dead cert to return to government in the next reshuffle? David Laws, out of government, comes in at 147 – which would put him behind only the Cabinet members and Lynne Featherstone. Even out of government, he is one of the Liberal Democrats’ most media-friendly figures.
He is unlikely to remain out of government for long.