5 min read
After threatening to hold a Cabinet reshuffle for what seems like most of 2021 Boris Johnson finally got round to it this afternoon with a hugely wide-ranging alteration to his top team.
But although this is certainly going to be seen as a ‘big’ reshuffle, by sticking to MPs with heaps of experience in senior ministerial roles, it seems unlikely to be seen as a ‘bold’ one.
Earlier this year it was speculated the Prime Minister would use this moment to start preparing the groundwork for what his Cabinet would look like ahead of the next election, by promoting newer MPs and those from the so-called ‘Red Wall’ so the government matched up more closely with the new-look party and its voters.
But despite several sackings and a few more demotions, there has been nobody from the 2017 intake, let alone the 2019 one, making the leap up the ladder.
One 2019 intake MP was not surprised: “He doesn’t like blood up the wall. He’s not a butcher. Other Prime Ministers have been very keen to wield the axe, and they do it much more frequently. Boris really hates that. He doesn’t like being in opposition… he’s put it off for a long time, but it did need to happen.”
We will find out later this week whether the make-up of the lower rungs will contain some more of the younger new intake, but the Cabinet remains the preserve of the over 40s, after Robert Jenrick – the first millennial to sit round the famous green table in Number 10 – was sacked from MHCLG. He will be replaced by the vastly experienced Michael Gove.
In ditching him and Gavin Williamson the PM has jettisoned two of his ministers who came under the most serious fire for presiding over debacles in the past 18 months – the unlawful Westferry development and the exams fiasco respectively.
Similarly Amanda Milling has paid the price for recent by-election failures, after a poor showing in Batley and the embarrassing defeat in Chesham and Amersham, while Dominic Raab has had the foreign affairs brief taken away from him following criticism for how he handled the Afghanistan crisis.
The move was widely seen as a demotion, but one MP offered a spirited defence, telling PoliticsHome: “The job of foreign secretary these days is not what it used to be, because any of the heavy lifting done in foreign affairs, all the glory anyway, is taken by the Prime Minister. It has been ever since the days of Blair. So he’s actually got a job where he will have to actually deliver things and do things properly. It’s probably a better job than foreign secretary in many ways.”
But the PM has kept faith with Priti Patel at the Home Office, despite the row over bullying and the ministerial code and a failure to get a handle on the Channel migrant crisis, and longtime Johnson ally Nadine Dorries is a surprise appointment as culture secretary.
Despite several years as a minister one 2019 Tory MP told PoliticsHome “she’s not Cabinet level – just don’t get that one at all”, hinting at possible frustration the gaps left open by sackings are only being filled by the same old faces. Another added: “She’s widely regarded as not being the sharpest tool in the box so to promote her to the cabinet, from what was a mid ranking position where she seemed to be struggling is a surprising move.”
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who lost her Cabinet role when her old department of overseas aid was subsumed into the FCDO, has made it back as she replaces Liz Truss as trade secretary, who follows Margaret Beckett as just the second female foreign secretary in a widely-expected promotion.
“She will be missed at trade, but very very deserves it and if she brings the same zeal to her new department as to trade we should see a very rosy time ahead,” a new Conservative MP told PoliticsHome.
Nadhim Zahawi has been repaid for leading the vaccine rollout by being handed education, and Steve Barclay is now at the Cabinet Office having served as Rishi Sunak’s number two in the Treasury.
However this does not mean loyalty has always been rewarded, as Robert Buckland was unceremoniously booted from justice to make way for Raab despite gaining praise for the job he was doing and sticking to his brief.
And Oliver Dowden has been a willing vessel to help fight the culture wars pursued by those in Number 10, from statues and flags to BBC funding and Channel 4’s privatisation, but has been downgraded from DCMS to party chair, a thankless task just two weeks out from Tory conference.
On the face of it the widespread changes do not seem to signify a marked change in direction for the government, though Johnson will hope some of the moves will improve competence at their respective departments.
So far there is also little to improve the mood among thrusting new Tory MPs with the PM’s closed-shop approach to the Cabinet, though a batch of appointments at the junior level for impressive 2019ers like Claire Coutinho and Laura Trott may have the desired effect.
But overall this was a day to shuffle the deck rather than make generational change. For many in the party, tomorrow is a much bigger day. As one 2019 intake MP put it: “The rest of the parliamentary party is very interested in the junior ministerial position. Partly, obviously, for self interest. Most of the parliamentary party aren’t yet ready to be in the cabinet, but they might be ready to be Junior ministers.”
Who’s up and who’s down in Boris Johnson’s new-look Cabinet so far:
Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary
Robert Buckland, Justice Secretary
Robert Jenrick, Communities Secretary
Amanda Milling, Party Chair
Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary to Justice Secretary
Oliver Dowden, Culture Secretary to Party Chairman
Liz Truss, Trade Secretary to Foreign Secretary
Michael Gove, Cabinet Office to Communities Secretary (plus responsibility for levelling up and the Union)
Nadine Dorries, Health Minister to Culture Secretary
Nadhim Zahawi, Vaccines Minister to Education Secretary
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Energy Minister to Trade Secretary
Stephen Barclay, Chief Secretary to the Treasury to Cabinet Office minister
Rishi Sunak, Chancellor
Priti Patel, Home Secretary
Sajid Javid, Health Secretary
Kwasi Kwarteng, BEIS Secretary
Mark Spencer, Chief Whip
Ben Wallace, Defence Secretary
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe