After weeks of speculation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally announced a major reshuffle of his Government yesterday. He has made sweeping changes to the Cabinet and more changes to the junior ranks of his administration are still expected. For a man who hates the business of reshuffles and the controversy they cause, the extent of the changes underlines Johnson’s command of his party.
The narrative coming out of Westminster and from those claiming to be in the know over the last few weeks that Johnson would move out the Brexiters that had been previously rewarded jobs in his Cabinet proved to be off the mark. Priti Patel, George Eustice, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Dominic Raab will all still sit around the Cabinet table when it next meets, although Raab will be there as Justice Secretary rather than Foreign Secretary
In fact, the two big casualties are Robert Buckland and Gavin Williamson both of whom had campaigned to Remain during the 2016 Referendum.
The most interesting moves are that of Nadine Dories, a long term supporter of Boris and keen Brexiter, who was promoted to become Secretary of State of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; and Michael Gove, the most reforming and probably most effective minister of this Government, who goes to Housing, Communities and Local Government.
In the case of Gove, he is there to get a grip on what Boris has described as his number one domestic policy item: housing supply. Gove has been interested in housing for decades, having been the party’s shadow minister before the 2010 election. His agenda has changed somewhat in the intervening years, whereas previously he was keen to see further development in the South East, he might now be more interested to see how housing has a role to play in the other part of his new ministerial brief, the levelling up agenda. Either way, the property industry should expect to see a radical new approach.
News that Liz Truss is the new Foreign Secretary will be a popular appointment with Conservative rank and file who credit her with doing a good job in securing a succession of post-Brexit trade deals that she has used to talk up Britain’s role in the world. One of the most interesting aspects of her new position will be the approach she takes with China, she is known to be among the most hardline of ministers on this knotty issue.
Former H&Ker Ollie Dowden’s move to become party chairman will take him away from the front line. His enthusiastic support for Britain’s tech sector will be missed by many. His successor, Nadine Dorries is not a noted technophile. It was Nadine that was criticised roundly for violating Parliament’s cyber security policy by admitting to sharing her passwords. Perhaps the experience has sharpened her IT skills, she’ll need them.
Anne Marie-Trevelyan has been appointed Trade Secretary, and richly deserved, but this leaves a key gap at BEIS where she was responsible for clean growth and renewable energy. As we approach COP26 and the Government starts an important new auction process for renewable energy in November the replacement will be crucial. The appointment of Simon Clarke, a leading light in the Conservative party’s environmental movement, to the role of Chief Secretary to the Treasury marks an important moment. The Treasury has been pushing back on a number of green spending items, notably around green energy and changes to the renewable heat incentive. It will be interesting to see the impact Clarke will have, and the imminent publication of the Comprehensive Spending Review at the end of October will offer a good indication.
The all-important changes to the junior ministerial ranks will take place over the next few days and the new teams will have a fortnight to refocus their departmental agendas before the political set piece of the year, the annual party conference, which takes place at the beginning of October in Manchester. H+K will be there with an ear to the ground and a team heading to all the key fringes and receptions. We’ll report back.