Reshuffle at last

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Bronwen Maddox; Alex Thomas; Catherine Haddon; Tim Durrant

September 16, 2021

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at what does Boris Johnson’s new cabinet mean for government.

After months of rumours, Boris Johnson has reshuffled his cabinet to remove some of the most criticised ministers and elevate his allies. In public terms, it may prove underwhelming. He has indeed demoted or sacked the prime targets of public fury and derision – Dominic Raab and Gavin Williamson – but after much delay. That may have stemmed from a reluctance to be told what to do by public clamour. But even though he has broadly chosen to reward competence and penalise failure, he has paid a price in the perception that he would tolerate incompetence for long stretches. The reshuffle also suggests he has put popularity with the Conservative Party first – hence the jettisoning of Robert Buckland, thought to have done well at the Ministry of Justice but lacking much love from members. What is more, the reshuffle does not obviously advance the priorities of the government – indeed, hinders some of them. The budget and spending review on 27 October are not helped by moving a key Treasury minister although the chancellor stays in place. Civil service reform, a cause to which the government claimed to be wedded, is almost certainly weakened with the moving of Michael Gove. And the standing of foreign policy and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office within the government is in question not so much because of Liz Truss’s arrival there – she did a competent job in International Trade – but because of the way the Afghanistan exit showed how its Whitehall clout had diminished. This short paper looks at some of the main casualties of Boris Johnson’s reshuffle, and at some of the key questions it poses.