by Wan Saiful Wan Jan. First published “The face of the Conservatives” 22 July 2014

The whole country is still in shock with what happened to MH17 last week. This is a national tragedy and I wish to express my deepest condolences to the families and relatives of those involved. This incident is particularly painful because two of our staff have loved ones on that fateful flight.

At the time of writing, the details of this incident is still sketchy. So I will not write too much about it yet. The only thing I want to say about this incident is that I find it quite distasteful for people to blame Malaysia Airlines for the downing of MH17. No airline would intentionally put a flight on a route known to be risky. To insinuate otherwise is reckless. And I really hope the international community will work together to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Last week there is actually another development in a foreign country that attracted my attention. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, made major changes to his Cabinet to prepare his party for the general election in 2015.

Not many Malaysian media covered that story, perhaps because its significance was not that obvious if you do not follow British politics. But I used to work for the Conservative party, was Vice Chairman of one of the divisions, was a candidate in the 2007 local elections, and travelled more than 10,000 kilometres to Manchester to attend the party’s annual meeting last year. Obviously I still follow British politics pretty closely.

Having said that, it doesn’t really matter whether or not you are interested in British politics. The cabinet reshuffle conducted by Cameron last week is still a very good case study of political leadership.

For the record, I have reservations about the reshuffle. I dislike the fact that Cameron has made the party more Eurosceptic. I dislike his decision to demote visionary politicians like the now ex-Education Secretary Michael Gove. I don’t understand why someone like Sajid Javid was made Culture Secretary when he could serve better in the Treasury.

And I think the biggest loss to the UK was when William Hague stepped down as Foreign Secretary. His characteristic voice and charisma will be much missed.

Overall, I think the reshuffle has pushed the Conservative Party, the party that is currently leading the coalition government, further to the right compared to where it was before. I do not like this position for I very much prefer a Conservative Party that is just right of centre.

But, even though Cameron might be taking his party into a dubious path, no one can deny that he has shown leadership.

During the World Cup, our Prime Minister Najib Razak said that if a country does not have effective leadership, they could end up like the Brazil football team, being humiliated with a massive defeat. Last week in Britain, Cameron showed that he is no Brazil.

I say that because the reshuffle showed how committed Cameron is changing the face of the Conservative Party. For so long the party has been known as the “nasty party”. It is accused of not being friendly to women and ethnic minorities, and not caring about the poor. Many of its reform programmes, no matter how good, are not easily understood by the common people and therefore the party was accused as being out of touch.

Cameron knows he must change that image immediately if he wants to remain in power next year.

So with the reshuffle he brought in more women into the cabinet. Now, almost a third of the British Cabinet is made up of very capable women politicians. He has already brought in many ethnic minorities.

He has ruthlessly removed or transferred some of the ministers seen as brash. Michael Gove might be his personal friend, and respected by many, but he was still removed because his actions as Education Secretary have upset many quarters.

Cameron either kept or promoted those who are able to communicate better with the public, and those who are more acceptable to the common people. This action almost inevitably means we should not expect any radical policies from the new British cabinet line up.

Radicalism may be necessary to change some things in Britain today, but it could cost votes. Since the general election will happen in less than a year, now is not the time to be too radical anyway.

Instead now is the time to showcase what the party has achieved since it was elected into government 2010. Now is the time to show that the party understands better the struggle of the common people. Now is the time to show that the party has truly improved and deserves another term to continue their reform.

Even though I disagree with some of his moves, I have to acknowledge that as Leader of his party and as Prime Minister, Cameron seems to have clarity of purpose and he is not afraid to show his mettle when the time comes.

He will promote people who can do the job, and he will remove those who could derail his agenda regardless of how influential or strong they are in the party.

Cameron clearly does not want to be like the Brazilian football team. He does not just talk about leadership but has exercised it through his cabinet reshuffle to ensure he has the right team to transform the country. This bold step may work or it may not. But, whatever the outcome, he is clearly acting on his conviction. That, Mr Prime Minister, is leadership.

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Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (

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