So did it work? Did Dave’s catwalk reshuffle produce an immediate and welcome bounce in Conservative poll ratings, propelling him well ahead of floundering Ed Miliband struggling to run the Labour Party?
Not really. YouGov’s poll for The Sunday Times gave Labour a five-point lead, a little bigger than the last three polls by the company, and roughly in line with its average for this year. Sure there were glimmers of light. Michael Gove’s dismissal as Education Secretary was celebrated beyond the grievance-ridden confines of the leftist NUT. The public gave it a net approval rating of plus 36 per cent and by a rather smaller margin said it wanted the newly promoted Nicky Morgan to ditch his policies (ones that Cameron has praised ad nauseam).
Ms Morgan made an early start in that direction by saying she “will obviously be nice to teachers”. Now why did not Mr Gove think of that?
But, if we are to continue to play the parlour game of government by opinion poll, why stop there? All Ms Morgan really has to do is ditch free schools and academies (a move that would be supported by the public) and insist that every lesson must contain a module on slavery and climate change, and she will surely be the most popular member of the Cabinet, thereby ensuring that she survives to collect her pension and gold watch.
For what it is worth – frankly not much – YouGov also found that the public think that the reshuffle has made the Cabinet slightly weaker than before.
There was slightly better news for the PM in the ORB International survey for the Sunday Telegraph, which found that six in ten voters believe the reshuffle was a step in the right direction for the Tories. Clearly not a view shared by sacked, demoted or disappointed politicians such as Gove, Liam Fox, Owen Paterson, Dominic Grieve, and Ken Clarke, all of whom have been stepping in the wrong direction since Dave put the pollsters in charge of Cabinet making.
But at the same time, the proportion of people who believe that women are fairly or well represented in politics is still significantly higher for Labour than the Conservatives.
Ominous news for the pale and male old guard such as George Osborne, Philip Hammond, and Eric Pickles. The clear message from the polls is that despite finding his feminine side, Dave needs to go much further before he gets the Harriet Harman seal of approval.
All of which is to suggest that Cabinet-making according to opinion poll ratings is a hazardous business. It took the incomparable Charles Moore in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph to point out the absurdity of the decision, prompted by Aussie campaign supremo Lynton Crosby, to get rid of Gove on the grounds he was toxic to voters. The former Education Secretary was disliked by 54 per cent of voters – a significant chunk admittedly. But before you give Dave a round of applause for responding to public opinion, it is worth bearing in mind that the saviour of the British economy, Mr Osborne, is also disliked by 54 per cent of voters.
So the heave-ho for the Chancellor? Don’t hold your breath.
The PM is entitled to construct his Cabinet on any basis he chooses if he thinks that merit is so last century. He is free to select on the grounds of race, gender or class or, indeed, whether he wants to be surrounded by congenial Old Etonians or curmudgeonly Yorkshiremen. Harriet’s Equalities Act does not apply to ministerial appointments yet, though she seems to be having quite an effect.
But to suggest – as his henchmen have done – that the acid test is a minister’s popularity – or lack of it – has alarming implications.
Gove was fired because he upset the Blob, the leftist educational establishment that has wrecked our schools over the last 40 years and sent us plummeting down international league tables. Paterson was sacked because he upset the “Green Blob”, the self-righteous, well funded bunny-huggers of the environmental lobby. It goes without saying that ministers who take on vested interests are bound to become unpopular. The critical question is not one of popularity – but rightness. Was Gove doing the right thing? Was Paterson? If they were not, why did not Cameron say so?
No doubt Mr Crosby has voluminous files tracking the poll ratings of Cabinet ministers by the hour, rather like some giant ECG machine. Woe betide anyone who falls into the “Gove zone” – unless, of course, they happen to be Cameron himself or his buddy Osborne.
But, as the surveys this weekend demonstrate, Cabinet-making by poll ratings is a fool’s errand. After all that parading up and down in Downing Street by our Thoroughly Modern Ministerial Millies, the Conservatives have slipped back in the polls.
Firing ministers who were breaking a few eggs to make a better omelette for the public has sent only one message – don’t even think about it. Play safe. Or in the immortal words of Ms Morgan: Be nice.
One wonders what Margaret Thatcher would have made of all this? Applying the Cameron-Crosby test, long before she transformed the country she would have had to fire herself.