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Cabinet Reshuffle:
Clearing The Decks

James Gurling and Matthew Elliott

The reshuffle marks a line being drawn under Brexit and Covid: a new phase of Boris Johnson’s time in office. If Johnson 1.0 was all about Getting Brexit Done, defeating Jeremy Corbyn and saving Britain from Covid, Johnson 2.0 will be about levelling-up, achieving net zero and – crucially – commencing the build-up to the next General Election.

The reshuffle that began this afternoon has been the subject of much rumour and spin. Originally briefed out as a means to keep Conservative MPs in order as the Government dropped their manifesto commitment not to raise taxes, the main Cabinet changes are now complete.

In reality, the Prime Minister was running out of options. With the Spending Round completed only three days ago and the Party conference looming on the horizon, now is the only time Boris Johnson can realistically get a new team settled-in before the autumn CSR and Budget.

There are plenty of capable would-be junior Ministers in the wings, keen to get on with their career progression, and a feeling of capability lethargy hanging over some of the Great Offices of State.

Johnson is effectively choosing who he can afford to have actively grumbling on the back benches, and those he can’t afford not to have around his Cabinet table.

Matthew Elliott sets out below some of the implications of the new Government line-up and what it says about Johnson 2.0.

CLEARING THE DECKS

Matthew Elliott

Senior Adviser to Engine MHP
and former CEO of Vote Leave

The departures from Government are more extensive than originally anticipated. On the scale of tinkering to clearing the decks, this reshuffle is certainly at the latter end of the reshuffle spectrum. Gavin Williamson sacked from Education, Robert Buckland dismissed from Justice, Rob Jenrick removed from MHCLG, Amanda Milling losing the Party chairmanship – those four big changes came soon after PMQs.

Dominic Raab’s move from the Foreign Office to Justice was less clear cut – it was sweetened with the title of Deputy Prime Minister. He has a strong relationship with the PM, so this might turn out to be a sideways move, rather than the demotion it is currently being presented as by the media.

With Liz Truss promoted to become the new Foreign Secretary, and both Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel keeping their jobs, two of the Great Offices of State are now held by women, and two by members of the BAME community. This is something that the Government should be rightly proud of. For Liz Truss, this is a well-earned promotion following her success at the Department for International Trade and recognition of her popularity with the Party grassroots.

Michael Gove has been confirmed as the new housing secretary. The media had been tipping a big promotion to either the Home Office or Foreign Office, but with his additional responsibilities for levelling-up and relations with the UK’s devolved administrations, this is a beefier MHCLG, befitting to his Cabinet Office experience of cross-government coordination.

Oliver Dowden’s promotion from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to the chairmanship of the Conservative Party might strike some as odd, with him being such an able Minister, but he has grown up through the Conservative Party and knows the party machine well. He has also been at the forefront of the ‘culture wars’, which are important to grassroots Conservatives. As a safe pair of hands in the media, this will be a high-profile position ahead of the next General Election.

Another feature of the reshuffle is rewarding those who have demonstrated their competence and deserve battle honours for the fight against Covid. The promotion of Nadine Dorries to become Culture Secretary is a recognition of the first class work she has done at the Department for Health, and a reward for her position as one of the PM’s most longstanding, doughty defenders in the Parliamentary party. And Nadhim Zahawi’s appointment as Education Secretary is recognition of his outstanding work both at BEIS and then as Vaccines Minister.

These changes undoubtedly give the Government a lift and a refresh ahead of the Party conference and the coming year.

It also feels like a line is being drawn under Brexit and Covid. We’re beginning a new phase of Boris Johnson’s time in office. If Johnson 1.0 was all about Getting Brexit Done, defeating Jeremy Corbyn and saving Britain from Covid, Johnson 2.0 will be about levelling-up, achieving net zero and – crucially – commencing the build-up to the next General Election.