Last week the Prime Minister fired the starting gun of national elections by setting up a new team of ministers to face the possibility of a Labour-led government. Much has already been said about Mr Cameron’s choices, most notably with regards to the premature departure of William Hague as well as the demotion of Michael Gove, with the latter much welcomed by teachers and academics.

While some commentators have described the reshuffle as the jubilation of pragmatism, Labour’s leader Ed Miliband stated in the Commons that Cameron’s reshuffle has ‘nothing to do with the country and everything to do with his party’ thereby dismissing the maquillage of Downing Street as nothing more than a marketing gimmick, a vote winning strategy in sight of  the 2015 General Election. Indeed, several new faces and a couple more skirts to replace the old-fashioned, grey-suited Tory ministers will do little to solve the so-called ‘women problem’ in government or ease inflation, soaring living costs and lack of affordable housing.

Nevertheless it is appropriate to define Mr Cameron’s reshuffle as a pragmatic one, as long as we clarify the meaning of ‘pragmatism’, which I always use with parsimony and mistrust. To put it bluntly, it seems to me that pragmatism is a fancier word for opportunism, and I cannot help but wonder whether it is a truly desirable quality for politicians to have in today’s pluralistic and highly interconnected world. Is it possible that Cameron’s pragmatic reshuffle and the synchronicity of Cabinet will damage good politics and collective wisdom?

Quite strikingly, Europhile ministers and reformers have been sidelined and pushed to the backbenches as a means of allowing the Tories to nestle those voters that, dissatisfied with government records, defected to UKIP as it allegedly offers a ‘solution’ – read scapegoat – to Britain’s problems. Furthermore, by sacking ministers like the unpopular Michael Gove, the climate-change denier Owen Paterson, the pro-EU Kenneth Clarke and the anti-devolution David Jones, Mr Cameron showed clearly that he’s still steering the vessel. Such an assertion of power with such timing is surely no coincidence, as it comes after loud criticism from Tory backbenchers, UKIP and Labour for his cack-handed negotiations on Junker presidency of the European Commission, the EU’s executive.

I believe that the makeover of Downing Street is a way of jumping on the bandwagon of European scepticism after the disappointing third place at European elections. Fuelling Euro-sceptic feelings with the appointment of staunch critics of Brussels such as Philip Hammond and Michael Fallon, respectively Foreign and Defence Secretary, will not prove beneficial for the UK in the long-run because a theoretical exit in case of the failure to negotiate a better deal on British membership will put countless jobs at risk and is likely to halt the economic recovery.

Sure enough, the Euro-sceptic leitmotiv allowed the Tories to reduce Labour’s lead making them appealing to a volatile and de-aligned electorate, as opinion polls collected by YouGov show[1]. Personally, my political cynicism as well as my Italian heritage lead me to assume that ministers and political parties are more interested in maintaining office and maximising their policy outcomes, than doing the ‘right thing’. Obviously the only way of keeping office is to win elections, possibly with an overall majority to avoid being restricted by a Junior party in a coalition government.

Undoubtedly it is becoming harder and harder for any party to govern with an absolute majority, not least because structural factors such as social class or ethnic background are no longer determinants of voting behaviour. This means that citizens are exhibiting considerable independence in voting. Today, voters behave like consumers, changing their preferences from one election to another and making strategic calculations based on their own personal experiences. Therefore politicians are turning into salespeople, fiercely marketing and promoting their party and their policies as if they were selling them at auction. As last week’s reshuffle of Cabinet goes to show, politicians’ raison d’être has become one of grabbing as many votes as possible rather than promoting the national interest .

I strongly believe that, for the sake of our future, Britain should stay at the heart of a reformed Europe. It is vital to work towards a united, more equal, more tolerant and more forward-looking Europe. It is mandatory to tackle the Union’s democratic deficit by implementing policies aimed to increase its legitimacy and accountability. We must boost people’s attachment to our beautiful and beloved Europe by nurturing the spirit and the intellect of Europeans, with the teaching of history and literature. It is important to remember that we have come a very long way since 1952, when the European Coal and Steel Community was formed, because as Edmund Burke famously said ‘those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it’. We also need a European Union made up by politicians willing to promote citizens’ interests, their needs, their everyday struggles and their aspirations. We do not need a union of bureaucrats, technocrats or big businesses. What we desperately need is a Community of people and thoughts based on the founding principles of Europe; that of unity and brotherhood in our geographical, cultural, linguistic and political diversities.

To sum up, Cameron’s reshuffle allowed the Tories to face the threat posed by UKIP while simultaneously nurturing a great deal of hope and congeniality amongst people that would hardly have voted for them. What is less clear is whether it will lead to better policy making, especially in the field of foreign policy and in the Defra, which witnessed the appointment of Liz Truss as Environment Secretary. Truss is contemptuous on climate change and her records could not be more ambiguous; in 2011 she voted to sell British forest, she  is not entirely supportive of green and renewable energy and firmly believes that fracking will benefit the country. However, I am quite confident that she will keep delighting agricultural lobbies, which is really and truly what matters the most… isn’t it?!

 

Sources:

[1] http://cdn.yougov.com/cumulus_uploads/document/p1f22eilqb/YG-Archive-Pol-Sun-results-210714.pdf