The reaction to Leon Brittan’s appointment tells us three important things about the current political situation. First, the Tory backbenches are becoming increasingly grumpy at jobs going to people other than them. A large number of Tory MPs who had expected ministerial posts missed out because of coalition. Cameron’s failure to write to many of these people thanking them for their service in opposition has made some of them rather bitter. But this resentment has grown in recent weeks as jobs have gone to various other people. The former Tory MP Paul Goodman says what many of his former colleagues are thinking when he writes, ‘There are more than 300 Conservative MPs. Isn't one of them up to the job of being Trade Minister?’
Second, the Eurosceptic right is getting a little restless. Nearly every Tory MP accepts that the realities of coalition mean that this government isn’t going to repatriate powers from Brussels. But the appointment of someone as pro-European as Brittan is regarded by some as a provocation. The coalition would be well advised not to throw any more matches into this tinderbox.
In the press coverage of the appointment much attention has, understandably, been given to the fact that Nick Clegg used to work for Brittan. But I suspect his links to Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn were also significant. As the appointment of a man who had worked with Llewellyn several times as national security adviser, Sir Peter Ricketts, and the drafting in of Llewellyn’s former boss Chris Patten to handle the Papal visit have shown Llewellyn is hugely influential in the making of government appointments.