At the beginning of the month, a large rock was pitched into the middle of the Ministerial pond. The reshuffle. There was much turbulence and reports of some distress but, three weeks later, there are but a few ripples left on the surface. Names have been erased from doors, letter headings have been changed, government drivers re-assigned and conference programmes reprinted. Those who believe in the mythology of “ Yes Minister” will assert that the destiny of the country remains unaltered as a result of these change in personnel, because Sir Humphrey reigns supreme.
This constitutional issue will remain unaddressed, but life certainly changes for the players involved. Early on Saturday morning, there is no longer a ring at the door as a Ministerial red box is delivered in a sack; nor does the box have to be lugged back on the train from Andover to Waterloo on a Monday morning. Indeed, the 7.35 can be ditched for a later train. The mobile phone does not have to be on all the time, in case of some crisis requiring my attention; nor do I have to listen to every news story on a Wednesday in preparation for Business Questions on a Thursday. Nor, in the name of collective responsibility, do I have to defend everything that Ministers may say. (They are now spared having to defend what I get up to.)
There have been further compensations. A number of speaking engagements have been removed from my diary – most being taken on by my successor as Leader of the house. Of those that remained, one has been cancelled owing to the difficulty of selling tickets for a dinner addressed by a backbencher. I am also not required as part of the doughnut for the Leaders Speech at the Party Conference in Birmingham, and can watch the oration in comfort on television.
There will be a souvenir of my past career; every outgoing Minister is allowed to purchase a red box, (compensating the Treasury for any expenditure incurred.) This will be added to the collection, currently in the attic, of boxes from previous posts.
Of course, there is a downside to all of this. One is no longer near the centre of events. If one pulls a lever, it is no longer connected to the machine. And my wife, who is a keen follower of my career, has spotted that there are less claims on my time. A number of outstanding household chores have been drawn to my attention...