I was a bit sniffy last week about some of the commentary that arose from the reshuffle so let me try to redress the balance by recommending James Kirkup’s piece in the Telegraph. Skip through the first few paragraphs, which explain that the Tories are trying to improve their data about voters’ views. The interesting bit comes at paragraph 11, where Kirkup asserts that
data from Facebook…showed that the majority of users discussing the reshuffle on Tuesday were women aged between 25 and 44, which is an audience not normally interested in ministerial jobs.
Aside from the incredibly patronising and condescending final clause (is any demographic ‘normally interested’ in ministerial jobs?) this is very interesting – though please note that I haven’t seen any similar claims about Facebook data anywhere else. If Ed Miliband is to land in Number 10 next year he needs to consolidate Labour’s traditional lead among women of working age. If Lynton Crosby has encouraged this group to think again about the Conservatives – or indeed if women cast their votes with the same party split as do men – it’s game over for Labour.
What Kirkup doesn’t tell us becomes all-important: what were these women saying? The Westminster village and its journalists have been deeply upset by Mr Gove’s demotion. To an extent the lack of balance can be explained by Gove’s excellent media contacts particularly when compared against Nicky Morgan whose rapid rise – itself partly explained by the patronage of George Osborne – has left her without a media support base. But the polling data tells us that Gove was very unpopular with parents (who vote) as well as ‘the Blob’ (who also, let’s remember, vote). So perhaps these 25-44 women – who are also the group of women most likely to have kids in school – will have been positive about the reshuffle. If I were Lord Ashcroft, I’d be putting a poll in the field around now.
As the dust settles, both wings of the Conservative party can claim to have been ill-served, but the moderate, pro-EU wing appears to have lost both its standard bearers, Clarke and Grieve, so effectively there has been a shift to the right. None the less, the sacked Owen Paterson has hit out especially bitterly and has apparently reached out to Dominic Cummings who is known mainly for being one of Mr Gove’s particularly-aggressive lieutentants during his time at the DfE. Unlike all too many MPs, Paterson had business experience before entering Parliament (though on the two occasions I heard him speak he used the same single anecdote about being in Prague when the communists lost power and rather implausibly equated life under the Czechoslovakian Communist Party with Britain under a potential Miliband administration) and may find kicking his heels on the backbenches intolerable. He, together with Liam Fox, who decided to take offence at the apparent low-grade job offer (at the same level offered to the similarly-disgraced David Laws when he was invited to rejoin the government), can make mischief.
So in some senses Cameron has moved forward – he has lanced the government of its least popular appointment – yet in axing Grieve and Clarke, as previously mentioned, and promoting Eurosceptic Philip Hammond to the Foreign Office he has continued to create circumstances where the Conservatives ‘bang on’ more than they need about Europe. The coming weeks will make it clearer whether, having caught the attention of working women, he has brought them to his side.