Cabinet Reshuffle: September 2021
Boris Johnson’s long-anticipated reshuffle comes just weeks before Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, and at an interesting time in his leadership with rumblings from his own party over planning reforms, the manifesto-breaking National Insurance rise, the cost of the transition to Net Zero and the back and forth on vaccine passports – not to mention signs of a declining poll lead.
Many of the key positions – Chancellor, Health Secretary and Home Secretary – remain unchanged. In sackings or sideways moves, the reshuffle does reflect poorly performing Ministers for example, former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
Equally, promotions reveal those who Number 10 deemed to have performed well, and who are also popular with Conservative Party activists including former Vaccines Minister and new Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi and new Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, in particular. Online forum Conservative Home conducts polls of Conservative members and publishes monthly league tables; it has not gone unnoticed that those who were sacked or demoted had lower or minus approval ratings in recent surveys, something that Boris is likely to have factored in.
The appointment of Michael Gove as Housing Secretary is particularly notable. Gove has long been the Government’s most energetic Minister and will bring fresh impetus to an area of policy that divides the party, with the Conservatives straddling a fine line between holding onto newer votes who want to see more houses built and those who think planning reforms go too far. Gove will spearhead the Prime Minister’s “Levelling Up” agenda and attempt to turn a slogan into a reality – something that will be crucial for the party’s credibility ahead of the next election. Supporting this, the appointment of Middlesbrough MP Simon Clarke as Chief Secretary to the Treasury aligns with this push, with more funding likely to be directed to make this vision a reality.
Perhaps the most eye-raising appointment, however, was that of Nadine Dorries as Culture Secretary. Hailing from the socially conservative wing of the party, Dorries has previously gone further than many MPs in her criticisms of the BBC, setting up a potential flashpoint ahead.
At a time when Britain’s foreign policy is under increasing scrutiny, the appointment of Liz Truss is easily seen in the context of a successful spell as International Trade Secretary. Nonetheless, it is likely to be the growing confrontation with China that will demand her attention over the coming years. Having developed strong and constructive relationships with key Government figures in Five Eyes countries will serve her well in her new role.
With the return of Anne Marie Trevelyan to a full Cabinet role after her previous Department was abolished, Greg Hands joins BEIS as the new Energy Minister. A sign that not much will change in the Government’s agenda and push toward Net Zero; however, as a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury he will be conscious of the cost of reducing carbon emissions to Government and will have to work closely with Treasury on decarbonisation and the cost of it to consumers.
With major changes in Education and Housing and Dowden’s move to Party Chairman there is a sense of the Government has re-set its focus. After negotiating the UK’s departure from the EU and managing the pandemic, Downing Street has pivoted and is now focused on domestic priorities with many believing Boris Johnson has chosen the team to take the Government to the next election, to be held possibly as early as 2023.