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The players to push Boris' agenda forward

Words by:
Associate Director
September 17, 2021

WA has developed a handy wall chart of the new cabinet – download the one-page using the Download Report link below.

 

Boris Johnson has carried out his first long-awaited ministerial reshuffle making wide-ranging changes to set his government up for the next General Election. This was a post-pandemic, post-Brexit, pre-election reshuffle that established a top team to steer through major domestic reform.

What did the reshuffle tell us and how will it change the government’s future agenda?

 

1. A renewed focus on domestic priorities ahead of the next election

  • This was a reshuffle that put a sharp focus on the government’s domestic priorities. By bringing Michael Gove and Nadhim Zahawi into Housing and Education respectively (combined with Sajid Javid’s recent appointment at health), Johnson has shown a clear vision for where he wants to show progress (beyond Brexit) at the next General Election, which could come as early as 2023.
  • Each of these departments now have able ministers in place with a focus on delivery who Johnson trusts to get things done: Javid is a heavy hitter as ex-Chancellor; Zahawi has proven his credentials with the vaccine rollout programme, and Gove has a track record of reforming tricky domestic policy agendas, most notably at Education and Justice.
  • Each of these now has tough in-trays: at Education Zahawi has to avoid further disruption to schools, address the challenge of learning loss, and smooth over relations with universities; Javid needs to get NHS waiting lists down and deal with the risk of future Covid escalations; and Gove has a long list of challenges: planning and housing reform, local authority funding, defining and progressing ‘Levelling Up’, and protecting the Union.

2. ‘Levelling up’ given new impetus and departmental infrastructure

  • Levelling up has moved from a campaign priority to a clear ministerial responsibility, with No10 being explicit that this will be one of Gove’s key priorities.
  • Long criticised for being an intangible aspiration, in order to keep and build on their 2019 wins in Red Wall seats, the government urgently needs to show the results of ‘Levelling Up’ for their new electorate.
  • Alongside Gove’s energy and radical thinking, the appointments of Kemi Badenoch (a rising star mooted for a Cabinet position) as ‘Levelling Up’ Minister in MHCLG and Simon Clarke (a key Johnson ally and Teesside MP) as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, provide an opportunity to show it’s about delivery not just campaign rhetoric.
  • Neil O’Brien – a Gove ally and the PM’s Levelling Up adviser who is leading on the development of a White Paper to be published later this Autumn – is now also in the department and will have influence.

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3. Treasury strengthened ahead of the Spending Review battle

  • Many of the key departments that will be impacted by the Spending Review (notably Education, Justice, and MHCLG where there are major challenges that need to be properly funded) have new Secretaries of State just six weeks before the Spending Review concludes.
  • With departments having already submitted initial proposals to HMT and negotiations about to begin, new ministers will be at a disadvantage in the battle over funding as they get to grips with their briefs.
  • A new Chief Secretary to the Treasury will also disrupt preparations but with the Chancellor staying in place, the institutional consistency of HMT officials, and Simon Clarke’s previous experience as a HMT minister, they’ll hold a major advantage over spending departments.

4. Johnson personally emboldened

  • This was a reshuffle delivered from a position of strength – more extensive than most expected and with both poor performers and others who were competent and loyal but seen as expendable moved on.
  • Relatively wide-ranging changes at a junior ministerial level as well show that Johnson feels he has the space to do this with no real threat to his leadership.
  • No10 has faced criticism for being chaotic, but the clinical way in which this was delivered with no political fallout shows a steeliness and strategic mindset that’s been less visible in the past.
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