There are 10 reasons to recast a government or, if you like, 10 tests of whether there was any serious point to holding a reshuffle.
Test 1. To try to make the government more liked by the public. There was one potentially popular move available to the prime minister. That was to sack George Osborne and find a new chancellor less likely to be booed whenever he is in the proximity of anyone who is not a close relative. That was also something that Mr Cameron was never going to do because it would have been the betrayal of his closest collaborator and an admission that the economic and political strategy that they have pursued for the last 28 months has been a terrible mistake.
Given that he wasn't going to eject the next-door neighbour, the prime minister might have been expected to take more care not to be gratuitously aggravating with other aspects of the reshuffle. When you need all the support you can get, it is not recommended to offend an important demographic who represent more than half the electorate, namely women. We do not have to believe that he fired one female minister while cradling a glass of wine and implied to another that she was too old to continue in cabinet. We just have to be able to do basic maths. The number of female full cabinet members has fallen from five to four, which is not compensated for by the promotion of some talented women to the lower rungs of the ministerial ladder. This when the Tory party already had a problem with women.
Test 2. To make the prime minister look more authoritative. Number 10 is in total denial mode about accounts of Flashmanesque conduct at reshuffle interviews: sacked ministers in puddles of tears as the prime minister swigged from a bottle of claret while strangling a rabbit. In a way, though, these stories have done him a favour by suggesting that he acted more than ruthlessly than he actually did. On the man-or-mouse measure, it was a squeaky reshuffle. To Iain Duncan Smith, he offered a choice whether or not to move from the Department of Welfare and Pensions. IDS decided that this was an offer he could refuse.
He knew he needed a new health secretary, but couldn't bring himself to sack Andrew Lansley outright so he was parked in the departure lounge role of leader of the Commons. He also knew that he needed a new culture secretary and dealt with that by making the eye-popping decision to swap Jeremy Hunt to health. Even the Archangel Gabriel would struggle to overcome the huge complexities of introducing highly contentious and deeply distrusted health reforms at a time of austerity. Mr Hunt is not the Archangel Gabriel. I guess it is only a matter of time before News Corps puts in its takeover bid for the NHS.
His promotion has generated all sorts of conspiracy theories, most along the lines that he knows where all the Murdoch bodies are buried, but there could be a simpler explanation. Mr Cameron is weak about disposing of failed colleagues, especially when they are his mates. To a disconsolate minister who asked why he was getting the sack, Clement Attlee tersely replied: "Not up to it." That was brutal, but it is perhaps just as cruel and it is certainly misguided to put people in unsuitable jobs because you don't have the cojones to sack them. It is also a bit pathetic to try to pretend to those you are demoting that it isn't really happening. The number of ministers allowed to attend cabinet has risen to a silly 32 after Ken Clarke, Sayeeda Warsi and David Laws were given consolation rights to sit around the table.
Test 3. To relieve internal discontent. Mr Cameron clearly spent a lot of time worrying about how to soothe the fevered brows of his fractious backbenchers. Andrew "Thrasher" Mitchell gets to fulfil a long-nurtured ambition to become chief whip with a brief to make the Tory parliamentary party more disciplined. Good luck with that. The most obvious gesture to the Conservative core constituency is the appointment of Chris Grayling as justice secretary in place of Ken Clarke, whose mistake was to take Mr Cameron seriously when he used to argue for the reforms to penal policy that Mr Clarke has tried to pursue. Old Hush Puppies was always much too liberal for the Tory grassroots, tabloids and web propagandists. Mr Grayling will have a different problem. He will have to square his party's expectations that his arrival will lead to many more criminals being incarcerated for much longer with the fact that police budgets are being cut and there is no money to build all the prisons that would be required to satisfy that craving.
Test 4. To give the government a fresh look. Reshuffles only impinge on the consciousness of the public when they are triggered by a scandal or a change in one of the big jobs. The foreign secretary, home secretary and chancellor stayed put. The prime minister's lack of courage about removing other cabinet ministers further limited his chances of making the government seem reinvigorated.
Test 5. To generate 48 hours or so of positive media coverage. A trivial test, but it is always very important to Downing Street. Mr Cameron's team spent weeks preparing. They didn't expect the left and liberal media to be well-disposed. The disappointment for them was the reception from the rightwing media. The Times was unimpressed. The Telegraph was underwhelmed. The Sun and the Daily Mail didn't even make the reshuffle their lead story. That was mean when a lot of it was designed for them.
Test 6. To remove cabinet members who are impeding the prime minister. There was one very stark example of this. Justine Greening was shunted out of transport for the high treason of sticking to the Tory party's manifesto pledge not to build a third runway at Heathrow. This might be worthy of a bit more respect were it clear that Mr Cameron now backs expansion of Heathrow. We would then know that he was U-turning from some sort of conviction. But what Boris Johnson calls the "ditherama" of holding an inquiry into airport capacity suggests that Mr Cameron shafted Ms Greening to get the pro-Heathrow lobbyists off his back. So a sign of steel there, but for a feeble reason.
Test 7. To clear out the duffers and the discredited. This should be one of the easier tests to pass since all governments accumulate dead wood over time. Mr Cameron was a fairly vigorous axeman, removing nearly 30 ministers. But there is discontent that the cull swept away a clutch of decent ministers who were masters of their subjects and had done nothing visibly wrong. The explanation from Number 10 is that they had to be sacrificed to create job opportunities for the hungry, younger generation and the displaced should not take it personally. I have news: some of them are taking it very personally. Incidentally, to sacked Lib Dem ministers, Nick Clegg offered the interesting explanation that he had to share jobs around because the Lib Dems would probably not be in power again.
Test 8. To promote able communicators. Tory activists will probably take to the new party chairman, Grant Shapps. He is energetic and aggressive and will talk their kind of language. The public will find him more of an acquired taste. This illustrates one of the broad failings of this reshuffle: most of the effort went into appeasing the Conservative party rather than reaching out to the country.
Test 9. To promote people who might prove good at making and executing decisions. Mr Cameron took the opportunity to bring some of his backbench talent into government – "the stars of the future", as one of his aides puts it. Some of them do look as though they have the potential to go very far, but they will need road testing before we can be sure. Mr Lansley and Mr Hunt were stars of the future once.
Test 10. To set a clearer sense of direction for the government. This reshuffle has certainly clarified some important things about the prime minister. A particularly striking decision was to put Owen Paterson in charge at environment. What is the reverse of one of those labels that tells you a product is eco-friendly? In politics, it is getting the approval of Lord Lawson of Blaby, leading voice of the climate-change deniers, who has given a warm endorsement to the new environment secretary.
How far Mr Cameron has travelled from those balmy days when his aides would hand out tree saplings at news conferences and he would promise to lead "the greenest government ever". I am also old enough to remember when he wanted to "hug a hoodie". I can further recall his previous incarnation as the champion of "localism", which sharply contrasts with his present one as the leader of a government that says Whitehall will overrule planning decisions that it doesn't like. The most important thing we learned from the reshuffle is that the original Tory modernising project has evaporated. Gay marriage is left – and that's about it.
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