A more obvious place for Herbert would have been in Eric Pickles’ old job at the Department of Communities and Local Government or at the Department of Work and Pensions. The decision not to send him to either of those spots has created concern that the Tories are backtracking on the welfare reform and localism agendas.
Before the reshuffle, one shadow minister told me that Herbert would be the man the leadership sent to DCLG if it was serious about localism. The decision to send Spelman there, who was lukewarm about the subject in her earlier stint in the post, suggests that the Tories are not filled with radical zeal on the subject. The worries about the localism agenda have been heightened by murmurings that Chris Grayling is sceptical about the police reform agenda that Nick Herbert pioneered.
There’s no doubt that this reshuffle has strengthened the presentational side of the shadow Cabinet and done a good job in broadening its social and geographical mix. These concerns about policy might turn out to be misplaced: after all, this was not a policy reshuffle. But the Tories should aim to prove over the coming weeks that they are still committed to their broad reform agenda. It should not be allowed to become another victim of the financial crisis.