If the coalition’s so lovely, why resign?
David Cameron was told of Lord Strathclyde’s decision to quit the government only last Wednesday and it came as quite a shock, I understand. He had thought Lord Strathclyde would out-live him and move on seamlessly to what would have been the peer’s seventh Tory leader to have served on the front bench.
The PM made the most of the moment at cabinet, pausing for effect after saying: “I have an important announcement – one of us is leaving the cabinet today.” After letting the other ministers sweat for a second or two he announced that Lord Strathclyde was leaving the government and would be made a Companion of Honour.
All very considerate of the PM considering Lord S’s motives because on the very day the PM and the DPM proclaim their commitment to the coalition, the Leader in the Lords has quit in part because of what Lord Strathclyde has been heard to complain of as “the collapse” of the coalition in the Lords. Next Monday sees that reach a new landmark as the Lib Dem peers will be whipped in their greatest show of coalition defiance yet to vote against boundary changes and reduce the size of the House of Commons. Tories in the Lords say that Lib Dem peers have played a crucial role in most of the many defeats inflicted on the coalition in the Lords in the past 18 months. Lord Strathclyde wants to throw himself into a business career but friends say the grind of defeat in the Lords has played its part in his decision.
As for his successor, Lord Hill, much has been made of his failed attempt to leave the government in the last reshuffle. Friends say this is slightly wide of the mark. He did go to see David Cameron to ask to leave the department for education with a view to working in another government job and got talked over and ignored. He slightly egged the story for humourous effect when telling a Lib Dem minister. Peers are normally nervous of a new addition (he was ennobled in 2010) getting a big job before they’ve been around a while. But Lord Hill is known to many senior Tory peers from his days at the Conservative research department in the 1980s and in various senior roles (some alongside David Cameron) since so there’s no shock of the new – also no culture shock for David Cameron, who has another familiar face around what some will think is his all too familiar top table.