A bump in the night
As many Cabinet members returned home last night to lick their wounds or crack open the Moet, more junior Conservatives were in for a restless night, as promotions and demotions continued to trickle in late into the morning.
Amongst the movers this morning were Kemi Badenoch MP, who left her previous role as Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury to become Minister of State at MHCLG and FCDO. Also joining the FCDO as a Minister of State was Amanda Milling MP, after being ousted as Co-Chair of the Conservative Party. Rather popular Minister of State Greg Hands made the jump from International Trade to BEIS.
Meanwhile, casualties continued to flow from MHCLG, the Department of Education and DCMS, the arenas of some of the more surprising Cabinet level reshuffles. Luke Hall, Nick Gibb and Caroline Dineage respectively were among the Ministers from these departments to be returned to the backbenches.
This week’s reshuffle has been surprising, not just for its removal of more popular Cabinet members such as Robert Buckland, but also its timing. With the Spending Review and COP26 just weeks away and more pressing policy decisions such as cuts to Universal Credit round the corner, shaking up the status quo now seems a bizarre, if not unwise, decision.
Some pundits have taken the reshuffle’s timing to compare it to Margaret Thatcher’s 1981 ‘purge of the wets’ – a show of authority after 18 months of U-turns and stays of executions dictated by the pandemic. But this shake-up isn’t so much concerned with delivering policy as it is about how that policy is being delivered.
With departments having already submitted their funding applications for October’s Spending Review, essentially dictating the next three years of policy direction, new Ministers will have less of a job getting their heads around the intricacies of their briefs than working out how to sell them. Think an episode of The Apprentice, where a businesswoman owning a confectionary shop gets flown to South Africa to market a tour of the Serengeti.
In this light, it is no coincidence that at first glance, Boris Johnson’s promotions and demotions list could have been copy and pasted off Conservative Home’s weekly opinion poll. Johnson will be hoping to demonstrate to party members ahead of conference that he is listening, and more widely to the public that he is ready for a fresh start.
With the reshuffle continuing to make its way down the ranks, one senior aide has explained that the decisions taken have been to reward loyalty and delivery. That might explain why any new MPs, including those in the much-lauded Red Wall, have failed to make a splash this time round. In any case, if this criteria turns out to be true, Matt Hancock will breathe a sigh of relief that he took an early retirement.