Poll roundup: ‘Window-dressing’ suspicions prevent Tory reshuffle boost

The Conservatives hope David Cameron's latest reshuffle will help him back into Downing Street after next year's general election. But suspicions of 'window-dressing' appear to be reinforcing the public's idea that nothing much will change.

There are three polls out today touching on the reshuffle. As is always the case, it all depends on how you ask the question.

The OBR International survey for the Sunday Telegraph is the most sympathetic to the government. It found 59% of voters believe the reshuffle was 'a step in the right direction' and that 81% think having more women in the Cabinet is a 'good thing'. It's hard to say otherwise, really.

Two other polls address the flip side of the reshuffle coin – that this carefully stage-managed shake-up was more about trying to make the Tories look good than anything else.

A Vision Critical survey for the Sunday Express found 35% of men and 26% of women think the reshuffle changes are 'more about window-dressing than ability'. Gordon Brown may have been the original victim of that phrase from the barbed tongue of Caroline Flint, but his successor in No 10 also now looks like he's being hurt by it.

Separately, a ComRes poll for the Independent found 59% of men and 53% of women think the appointments were mainly for 'spin rather than merit'. That variation on the theme is a diluted version of the same sentiment, so no wonder it's got a higher take-up.

Here's the view of Ann Widdecombe, as expressed to… the Sunday Express:

"It's hardly a surprise people are sceptical about the reasons behind appointing so many women to the Cabinet, given all the briefings about quotas that were going on beforehand. Women were lined up. It's no wonder it all backfired."

Her line might be taken to be a little excessive were it not for the fact that the most senior appointment of a woman to Cameron's Cabinet has herself confirmed she's not going to do anything differently.

New education secretary Nicky Morgan has told the Sunday Times she intends to be "nice to teachers", but isn't actually going to reverse any of Michael Gove's reforms.

"There will certainly be no soft-pedalling," she said.

"I think Michael has been a fantastic education secretary and the reforms he has put in place, particularly freeing schools from Whitehall interference, have been phenomenally successful."

This isn't going to go down well with voters. A YouGov poll accompanying the Morgan interview found 40% think Morgan shouldn't continue with Gove's policies, eight points up on the 32% who think she should continue his battle against the teaching establishment's 'blob'.

Still, Conservatives believe the reshuffle will make a difference by this time next year. Gove was reportedly approached to be chief whip two weeks before the shakeup and decided to accept the job in order to help the Tories win power. In the views of senior Conservative speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, the idea is to get the "top team in the middle doing the heavy lifting for the election… that's what we are going to be doing in the next nine or 10 months – we have got to get re-elected."

You only had to listen to the roars of the Conservative benches during last week's prime minister's questions – the last before the summer recess – to appreciate just how much the Tories are keen on unity over, in the words of one backbencher, "annihiliation".

But that doesn't mean there are actually grounds for optimism, as ousted minister Ken Clarke has been warning in his exit interview with the Observer newspaper.

"I belong to a Conservative party that used to be able to win elections … it was the self-discipline of the party that was extraordinary," he reminisces. Not so now, with the Tory right deeply powerful. Cameron should fear a Nightmare on Downing Street II in which the Conservatives have a single-figure majority, Clarke believes.

But even winning any kind of overall majority will be difficult, the former chancellor believes. In his view, the Tories have a "mountain to climb". The reshuffle doesn't change that one bit.