MPs and "armchair reshufflers" ponder cabinet changes

Now, where were we? This is my first week back at work for four weeks (not that I've been idle). What - apart from 1,750 e-mails - have I missed?

The House of Lords is still with us, and will be for some time. Ditto, I suspect, the current constituency boundaries for MPs, most of whom are currently enjoying the summer recess away from Westminster.

The politicians return next week, but when the cat's away the mice come out to play and there is no shortage of speculation among the hacks here about the prime minister's looming cabinet reshuffle.

This is expected in the first two weeks in September but doesn't appear to be a fixed date in the calendar. Some expect it as early as next Monday, but think David Cameron will wait until after the Paralympic Games, which end on September 9.

If you believe what you read in the newspapers, Cheryl Gillan's departure from the Welsh secretary's job is inevitable.

Her parliamentary private secretary, Glyn Davies, has been doing his best to mount a cheerleading operation for his boss, tweeting "Really hope PM keeps Cheryl Gillan as Welsh sec. Big fan. She makes the right calls - and one in the eye for all those armchair reshufflers".

Mr Davies, one of the more independent-minded PPSes, believes that on a number of issues, from the referendum on the Welsh assembly's powers to the Silk commission on the future of devolution, his boss has got it right.

Her dismissal would follow arguably her greatest achievement: securing UK government commitment to the electrification of rail lines between London and Swansea, with a similar upgrade for valleys commuter lines.

As one of her critics within government puts it ahead of the reshuffle: "The irony is that she has got better at the job." Conservative MPs (if not AMs) now find her less prickly than before, even if some criticise her for failing to mobilise Welsh Tory backbenchers as a group.

If you believe what you read in last Saturday's Daily Mail, she will quit for family reasons. This, I am told, is not true and she wants to continue in the belief that there is a lot left to do - the south may have got the rail boost but she wants to deliver projects that benefit mid Wales and the north too.

Speculation on her likely successor has centred on Maria Miller, the upwardly mobile minister for disabled people, who went to school in Bridgend but is a Hampshire MP.

But many Conservatives now believe they have won the argument for the next secretary of state to be Welsh-based, which would leave Mrs Gillan's deputy, David Jones, in pole position.

It would be unusual for a junior minister to be promoted to cabinet rank without a spell at minister of state level but these are unusual times. The Scottish secretary, Michael Moore, entered cabinet from the backbenches and, outside the whips office, no Welsh MP has minister of state ranking.

One idea that appears to have gone away - at least for now - is the merger of the Welsh job with other territorial departments.

The agenda for October's Conservative party confererence promises a speech from the secretary of state for Wales rather than a minister for the nations. But, with the reshuffle looming, the author has taken the precaution of listing speakers by job titles rather than by name.