Alex Stevenson's Rules of the game blog

Reshuffle: The inside story of how Hague's ego trumped the dignity of the Lords

David Cameron has handed the Lords a major constitutional snub - in order to preserve William Hague's ego.

Tina Stowell, appointed by Cameron to head the government's presence in the second chamber, is the first leader of the Lords not to be a full member of Cabinet in peacetime.

In fact it's believed the only other occasion when a leader of the Lords has not been in the Cabinet was during the Second World War.

It's a move which has left peers in the Lords flabbergasted. Labour figures have already spoken out about the shift, pointing out that its standing orders clearly state that the leader is a "member of the Cabinet".

Many of those in the upper House are expected to be outraged when the issue is raised in today's sitting.

One opposition source told "Across the Lords, this will go down like a bucket of cold sick."

The Lords has reason to feel snubbed over the diminished Cabinet status of its leader

Amid the drama of reshuffle day confusion and anger have been the predominant emotions. There were further question-marks over the move given the decision means Cameron has one less woman in the Cabinet - despite No 10's PR drive to highlight the injection of more females into the government.

Now the rationale behind Downing Street's thinking is emerging. In essence, the Lords has been snubbed in order to avoid insulting Hague. understands that the prime minister faced a difficult choice because of the cap on the maximum number of Cabinet spots which offer 'full member' status.

This explains, in part, why there are now a total of 11 others who 'attend Cabinet' but are not full members. These include chief whip Michael Gove, Tory chairman Grant Shapps and - for the first time in peacetime - the leader of the Lords.

Until yesterday the list of second-class Cabinet figures also included the former leader of the Commons, Andrew Lansley. When he switched from his old job as health secretary he was forced to accept the £22,000 pay cut resulting from the loss of his 'full Cabinet member' status.

Given Hague was entering the same job, the outgoing foreign secretary might have expected to accept a pay cut of his own.

But Cameron has been at pains to preserve Hague's status by keeping his odd title of 'first secretary of state'. It's a job title typically awarded to senior party people to make them feel more important. Five years ago Gordon Brown bestowed the honour on Peter Mandelson.

A more obvious choice for Hague than first secretary of state would have been deputy prime minister - were it not for the fact the requirements of coalition meant giving that title to Nick Clegg four years ago.

Hague is standing down from parliament and now occupies a role typically occupied by demoted has-beens.

But Cameron chose to keep Hague on as a senior government figure, despite the fact the new leader of the Commons will be entering a winding-down period over the coming months.

This was why he decided he had no choice but to shunt Stowell down the pecking order. Hague's position within the government as first secretary of state has effectively trumped that of the leader of the Lords.

UPDATE: At this morning's lobby briefing the prime minister's spokesperson justified the first secretary of state role by saying: "It underlines the seniority and influence of William Hague in the government."

Tina Stowell: Will be paid the same as her predecessor, after all

In the eyes of No 10, this was a straightforward quid pro quo.

In the eyes of the Lords, Cameron has just scorned not only Stowell but also every peer sitting in the second chamber.

It's not about her pay - despite the fact that, as Bloomberg  reported yesterday, she was set to receive £22,000 less than her male equivalent (the Conservative party has agreed to make up the difference).

Nor is it about her role in government. No 10 insists Stowell will continue with the exact same job as her predecessor Jonathan Hill, who has been named as Cameron's nominee to be Britain's next European commissioner. She will attend every meeting of Cabinet, and she will receive Cabinet correspondence just as her predecessor did.

Instead this is about symbolism - and the perception within the Lords that the prime minister is utterly disinterested in its doings.

"Ministers are quite good at forgetting to think about the consequences of things in the Lords," says Meg Russell of the UCL's Constitution Unit. "And the Lords jumps up and bites them."

Cameron has chosen to insult peers instead of Hague. It's a gamble which could cause huge problems as his government tries to push through the coalition's final batch of legislation before next year's election.

As Russell warns: "If the Lords becomes cut adrift, it becomes more unpredictable."

Gove smothers May with praise - while retreating from his extremism apology

Michael Gove fell over himself to praise Theresa May this morning - while subtly retreating from his apology over her handling of extremism.

The education secretary was humiliated into saying sorry after a bitter public row raged last month over the radicalisation of Islamists in Britain.

Gove was eventually forced to apologise for having attacked May for not "draining the swamp" from which terrorism emerges.

He's been rather quiet since then, but popped up on The Andrew Marr Show this morning to talk it over.

One thing was obvious from the start: he was being very, very nice to Theresa.

When sizing up what needs to be done, he acknowledged there were questions for local authorities to address, as well as "my own department". Not a mention of the Home Office.

On the question of the Isis caliphate, he stated: "I think it's important to stress that no home secretary has been as vigilant in dealing with the terrorist threat as Theresa May." He revealed she had been telling the Cabinet the Syria-Iraq region now poses a greater threat to the UK's security than any other in the world.

Then later in the interview he added: "Theresa May has been more vigorous in stopping hate preachers getting into this country than any of her predecessors."

This was too much for Marr, who pointed out that his praise for the home secretary was rather non-stop. "She's done a very good job in this area," Gove shot back. He then offered his own version of the row: "Some of the things that have been written about this in the past are very very far from the reality" - clearly a sign that this is still something of a sore spot.

All this would be very amusing and entertaining, were it not for the fact that Gove's rhetoric actually saw him retreat on the main points he was originally disagreeing with May about.

His dispute with the Home Office was about whether enough is being done to nip extremism in the bud. When the phrase 'draining the swamp' was put to him - his own, as we now know - he didn't shy away from outlining his views.

"We need to challenge these views and we need to make sure people who have views which are inimical to liberal values, and which use institutions to push an agenda which is inimical to liberal values,  are not in a position where they can use public money to pursue their views," Gove said.

"One of the things I'm anxious we can do is to make sure we look for the evidence and follow the evidence. We know that in the past there have been people in this country, preachers of hate and others, who have attempted and succeeded to poison young minds, so we need to be vigilant."

That is not a direct retraction of an apology, but May might see it as something coming close to it. Gove has done well in recovering so quickly from his embarrassment. He will be calculating the avalanche of compliments will smother the audacity of his unrepentance.

NOTICE of a MATCH to be played on an UNEVEN PLAYING FIELD next year

Earlier today I wrote a blog outlining the latest developments in the party funding debate. Both Labour and the Tories are pretty bad when it comes to getting in the cash, it's clear. What's really interesting now is how the Conservatives might just be doing a lot better than Labour when it really matters next year.

As it happens my choice of headline has been criticised, thusly:

In reply to which, I offer this general notice to the political parties:

The general election (hereinafter known as the FOOTBALL MATCH) is to be contested between the LABOUR and CONSERVATIVE parties (hereinafter known as TEAMS) on May 7th 2015.

The FOOTBALL MATCH will deviate from normal sporting conventions in that financial backers (hereinafter known as FANS) of each TEAM will be permitted the chance to influence the outcome before polling day.

Each FAN can provide monetary funds which will help the parliamentary candidates (hereinafter known as PLAYERS) in their respective bids to best their opposite number.

The total amount of cash raised by the FANS will help determine whether or not the pitch (hereinafter known as the PLAYING FIELD) is to be sloped so as to favour one TEAM over the other.

If the LABOUR TEAM is outspent by a factor of three to one, for example, the PITCH will be angled so that the LABOUR leader (hereinafter known as CAPTAIN) and his footballing colleagues will be forced to play up a 15-degree slope during the MATCH.

The resulting UNEVEN PLAYING FIELD will make it bloody hard for the LABOUR TEAM to win the MATCH.

It is accepted by all and sundry that the LABOUR TEAM will find it additionally hard to win the MATCH because the policies (hereinafter known as the PLAYING STYLE )of its CAPTAIN alienates rich FANS.

Instead only attracts the backing of FANS controlled by a trade union (hereinafter known as the LABOUR UNITE-D SUPPORTERS' CLUB) which dictates to the CAPTAIN exactly what his PLAYERS are supposed to do on the PLAYING FIELD which, as has been previously established, is UNEVEN.

The CONSERVATIVE TEAM is controlled by a CAPTAIN whose PLAYING STYLE delights rich FANS and encourages them to use their vast amounts of cash to help the CONSERVATIVE TEAM. They are totally loaded and are much more subtle in their request for PLAYING STYLE changes than the LABOUR UNITE-D SUPPORTERS' CLUB, which is embarrassingly brazen and only serves to make the CAPTAIN of the LABOUR TEAM look hopelessly stupid.

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