Who will follow Hague, and when?
Paddy Power have recently put up a new market on who will be the next permanent Foreign Secretary after William Hague. Though the story surrounding his hiring of Christopher Myers has largely died down, Fraser Nelson (Spectator editor writing for the NotW) has hinted that the personal cost of making the statement he released might cause him to step away from front line politics in the near future anyway.
Nelson’s article is worth a read in full, but the key points are firstly that Hague’s presence is important for Cameron and the coalition (“Hague not only adds heft, but reassures the Tory mainstream that the Coalition is OK”) and that he would be tricky to replace (“Hague would need to be replaced by a right-winger. Liam Fox or Iain Duncan Smith would NOT want to move. It would be destabilising”)
I’m not sure I share Nelson’s certainty that it must be a right-winger, though the balance of the Cabinet as a whole is important. Let’s take a look at the candidates and the odds from the Irish bookmaker:
Liam Fox 5/2
Michael Gove 4/1
Theresa May 8/1
Caroline Spelman 9/1
Philip Hammond, Danny Alexander, Andrew Lansley 10/1
George Osborne 12/1
Andrew Mitchell 16/1
Iain Duncan Smith 18/1
Eric Pickles 20/1
Lord Strathclyde 22/1
Owen Patterson 25/1
Cheryl Gillian 25/1
Ken Clarke 33/1
Of these, most are incredibly unlikely candidates for Foreign Secretary. Nick Clegg, though well qualified (speaks several languages, former MEP etc) is oddly not listed. I strongly suspect that it would not be any Lib Dem, unless Clegg were to take on the FCO whilst remaining Deputy PM. Promoting another LibDem into the very top tier would unbalance the Coalition, and undermine Clegg’s seniority within his party – unless it were Paddy Ashdown. If not a LD leader (past or present), it must be a Conservative. That rules out Danny Alexander (and Huhne and Cable, or Laws, obviously).
Some would almost certainly not want to leave their current jobs. IDS certainly, Andrews Mitchell and Lansley enjoy ringfenced budgets at present, and Owen Patterson is hardly likely to be called away from Northern Ireland given the recent flare-ups. Moving Theresa May makes no sense (no-one else would want the Home Office), and I cannot see either Spelman or Gillian making the jump from DEFRA or Wales respectively. Pickles would get the job on the basis of performance to date, but his pugilistic progress at DCLG seems a better fit for him than the niceties of diplomacy. Lord Strathclyde would have been possible, though I suspect his involvement with Trafigura would make the Foreign Office the wrong promotion for him. Ken Clarke would no doubt be an interesting choice, but I suspect the Tory Right would have a real problem with a Conservative Europhile in that job.
That leaves Fox, Gove, Osborne, and Hammond listed. If the economy was not a major issue, then Osborne would be the clear favourite (probably moving Hammond – a former Shadow Chief Sec – to the Exchequer). But with the economic future still uncertain, I cannot see Osborne being moved. Fox would tick Nelson’s box, as the leading right-winger, but would Cameron promote him to the FCO? And would he want to leave the MoD? Fox was a leadership contender last time, and elevating him further would more likely embolden the Tory Right than passify them. A Fox elevation would create a vacancy at Defence, which again returns us to the possibility of Ashdown in the Cabinet (he was rumoured to have been offered the job in May).
So Gove or Hammond? Gove has been the most-disappointing performer in some ways, but that perhaps simply reflects the degree of expectation (he was the best performing Shadow) and the determined efforts made by Ed Balls in opposing him. He might want to leave the Education battles behind, and although not a classic right-winger in many senses, his foreign policy positions have always sounded quite hawkish (on Iraq in particular). Hammond would also be an interesting choice – previous work at the World Bank and a consultancy position with the Government of Malawi for two years. His promotions to the front bench were under IDS and Howard, and transport is one area where little major policy has been launched.
There are three major names missing from this market: Francis Maude, Oliver Letwin, and David Davies. Maude strikes me as being very happy as the “Cardinal Richelieu” of the Coalition, wielding far more influence than is written about in the press. Oliver Letwin might have been nicknamed “Oliver Leftwing” by Kelvin McKenzie, but he is very fiscally conservative and an unabashed Euroskeptic, not to mention having been a Shadow Home Secretary under IDS and Shadow Chancellor under Michael Howard. Then there is David Davies – I suspect he would not be rewarded with a job as senior as this, either for his remarkable departure from the front benches last time, or for agitating on the backbenches now. However, were someone like Gove promoted into one of the Big Four jobs, I could see the return of Davies to another job in the Cabinet reassuring some of the Tory Right.
Obviously all of this is speculative, although William Hague will eventually retire, and this careful balancing act will have to be reorganised somehow. The longer the wait, the better chance of someone currently junior having grown in stature – if anyone gets a long-shot candidate added to the market, please let us know. For now, I’d call Gove the favourite, and Hammond the value bet. If Letwin was added at better than 12/1 I might be interested too. Clegg to combine FCO and DPM should be worth at least 8/1 in my view.
Of course, Fraser Nelson’s criteria demand someone liked by the Tory Right, a Euroskeptic, an internationalist (maybe born abroad, or fluent in foreign languages), experienced in high office, not part of the Cameron-clique, but probably not Liam Fox or IDS. In return for agreeing not to run against his leader, wouldn’t Fraser Nelson’s predecessor-but-one at the Spectator be rather a good fit?
Mike Smithson is away