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News, gossip and insight from PoliticsHome Editor Paul Waugh

Who could replace Huhne?

I haven't seen any betting markets* on this yet, but it's worth pondering who could replace Chris Huhne should he resign to 'clear his name' on the speeding allegations.

Remember that the Lib Dems have a guaranteed five Cabinet posts, so the exit of one of their key players would mean another Lib Dem arrival.

So who's in a position to enter the Cabinet? Well, my money would be on Ed Davey. Many Lib Dems were surprised that Davey didn't get a Minister of State post last May but he's stuck to the task of postal reform and proved an invaluable ally alongside Vince Cable at BIS. More importantly, he's been one of the party's most senior modernisers for a long time. Prior to Nick Clegg's arrival at Westminster, many had seen Davey as the dark horse contender for the leadership.

Another option could be Norman Lamb, who is closer to Clegg and was hugely disappointed not to make the cut last May for any ministerial job. The counter case is that bringing him in straight to Cabinet could just look strange given his lack of ministerial experience.

Of the other contenders, Sarah Teather and Nick Harvey have their admirers, but both have their plates full with schools and defence reforms right now.

Among the old guard, there's always Ming and Paddy but it's unlikely that either would have the energy or appetite for a demanding round-the-clock Cabinet post.

Ironically, one of the people who would be best placed to come into the Cabinet is not a Lib Dem, but a Tory.

Grant Shapps is one of the original Cameroons and remains very close to the leader. His localism bill is set to complete its Commons passage soon and he'd be free to take up a new challenge. Shapps has long been an environmentally friendly, modernising type and was one of the ministers to swing strongly behind Huhne recently in his battle to ensure deep carbon cuts. His time will come.

If there is an emergency reshuffle (and it's far from clear the PM will want one - don't forget that Tony Blair remained in post while Plod carried out a lengthy criminal investigation), it may be that a nice Tory is shifted to Climate (possibly Jeremy Hunt?) and they are in turn replaced by a Lib Dem.

What's certain is that many Tories are not exactly displeased at Huhne's discomfort. One Tory minister tells me it's his birthday this week and Huhne's resignation would be the perfect present. Others joke that the Aussie slang for 'idiot driver' is "a Hoon".

Whatever happens to Huhne, it's clear that the PM is determined to use Year 2 of the Coalition to return to the kinder, gentler persona that got him noticed with the punters in the first place. He knows that likeability-with-competence is his best asset. That's why Cameron sees the carbon cuts as essential to the Government's green image, that's why we're seeing him restate his personal commitment to the NHS today, that's also why we're seeing the flexible working rights unveiled today.

The Lansley reforms and, to a lesser extent, the Willetts uni-for-the-rich row have both served to 'retoxify' the Tory brand and the PM knows it. I suspect we will see a bit more deep detox in the coming weeks and months.

Whoever replaces him, Huhne's exit would have to be used as a further detox moment.

 

*FOOTNOTE: Ladbrokes have odds only on who's favourite to next leave the Cabinet, not who will be the replacement.

 

UPDATE: In my haste, I somehow omitted to mention Jeremy Browne, the FCO minister (and a minister of state unlike Davey, who's a PUS). He could well get a step-up.

There is also Paul Burstow, but he's needed for NHS reform (and has been perhaps a bit too keen on the Lansley reforms for Lib Dem comfort)

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