Why David Cameron should / should not sack Francis Maude in the Cabinet re-shuffle

There are strong rumours of a UK government Cabinet re-shuffle this week. Whilst of course we’re deeply excited by who might become number three at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, our main interest is in the Cabinet Office position, filled since May 2010 by Francis Maude, known to us as “Minister for Procurement”.

esther-mcvey-imgWill he survive? The rumours aren’t strong in either direction for him. He is probably of a generation that means he won’t be moved to another post – he is also in the odd situation of attending Cabinet without formally being a Cabinet member. And I’m not sure he’s going to get a promotion to Cabinet when the Prime Minster really wants and needs to promote some women. (Good luck to Esther McVey, I saw her walking down the street in Westminster the other day, so of course I feel she is virtually a personal friend now. And of course ... no, let's not go there).

My money, for what it is worth, is Maude staying put till the election next May and then leaving the position (even if the Tories / coalition are re-elected). But here are three arguments in each direction that Cameron might like to consider.

Cameron should fire Maude because:

1. Public procurement, as well as his other key responsibilities (transparency, civil service reform, digital stuff, etc.) just need a fresh face and approach. After more than 4 years, virtually a lifetime for a Minister, Maude is running out of ideas. There’s been nothing new really from a policy perspective for some time now in his patch, and in some areas such as the development of mutuals or civil service reform, he has (some might argue) delivered very little in those four years.

2. Whatever he is like in real life, Maude comes across as somewhat distanced from real people (remember the “jerrycan”) and can appear arrogant. He has annoyed several Cabinet colleagues, some quite considerably, and has few internal supporters at top levels in the Party. He has also allowed his Department to make him look hypocritical when it comes to transparency. None of those factors will help going into the election if Cameron wants to use Maude in a highly public manner.

3. There are quite a few major suppliers to government who are seriously p****d off with Maude and Cabinet Office. A sacrifice of Maude now might make those suppliers less likely to come forward with embarrassing material or comments pre-election.

On the other hand, Cameron should keep Maude because:

1. He has genuinely delivered on many of his agendas. He has driven through some real change (in areas such as procurement and digital) and savings, against significant opposition (including from his own colleagues at times, hence point 2 above). He is respected and even liked by many of his civil servants. But above all, and whether or not we believe all the precise data and figures put forward, there has been tangible delivery from Cabinet Office.

2. Maude understands his brief inside out – in most areas, anyway. If Labour attacks performance or come up with alternatives in his areas, who better to respond? For instance, we have never had a Minister who understands procurement in the way he does, down to detailed knowledge of EU regulations. Why lose that now?

3. And it is not the easiest brief to pick up quickly, because of its range and scope – from shared services to national security, mutuals and social investment to civil service pay. What could anyone do differently or better than Maude really in the 9 months before the next election? Might it even be seen as a bit of a poisoned chalice?

So, our verdict is: Maude survives!

But then, I'm not the Prime Minister. Not yet anyway (he said, stroking his white cat and training his laser guided electron particle dis-integrating ray gun directly onto Whitehall...)

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Voices (3)

  1. buyer in the corner:

    Surely suppliers being p’d off with Maude is a reason to keep him? I don’t think any suppliers were ever p’d off with Stephen Timms….

    1. Peter Smith:

      That is a very good point. Stephen.. who? (Was he actually in that role – I had honestly forgotten). Seriously though, it is a fair point, but the question is whether suppliers could do any electoral damage. As you well know, EVERYTHING for next 10 months is now about the election.

      1. Paul Wright:

        Everything IS about the election now. Including Francis attack on striking public sector workers which in passing managed to undermine the legitimacy of parliament and elected police commissioners. Still, though I don’t agree with all of his ideas, I think having someone who actually wants to be there and thinks about public procurement is valuable. I too hope he stays.

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