PM asserts power, reminding colleagues of their dispensability as reshuffle removes failing ministers
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has signalled the government’s direction and strategy as the UK Government cabinet is reshuffled, with dramatic developments as three ministers are sacked for poor performance and bad publicity.
Johnson’s official spokesperson said the reshuffle was the second part of the plan to relaunch government strategy following the winter plan for COVID-19 announced on Tuesday.
“The PM set out his plan for managing COVID during the autumn and winter,” he said.
“But the government must also redouble our efforts to deliver on the people’s priorities. The PM will be appointing ministers [on Wednesday] afternoon with a focus on uniting and levelling up the whole country.”
Michael Gove emerged from the reshuffle as a prominent tool in the Prime Minister’s arsenal after being appointed Minister of Housing, Communities and Local Government, a key position in executing Tory election strategy when the time arrives.
Gove will be responsible for this levelling up agenda across the government, protecting the union, and solving disputes concerning radical planning reforms.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, and Housing and Communities Minister Robert Jenrick have all been ousted from the cabinet for their poor performance and public failures.
Dominic Raab has been demoted from his role as Foreign Secretary — which now falls to media-savvy former Minister for International Trade Liz Truss, a favourite of Tory grassroot members — to Justice Minister, a perceived fall in the pecking order.
It is widely believed that Raab’s handling of the fall of Afghanistan is to blame for his ‘punishment’ demotion to Justice Minister. The then-Foreign Secretary was criticised heavily for remaining on holiday in Crete while the Taliban marched back to power, and his role in the evacuation.
However, Raab has simultaneously been ‘promoted’ simultaneously to Deputy Prime Minister, a move which came after intense negotiations with the Prime Minister.
Former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson leaves the cabinet after a career fraught with criticism.
After the exams and assessments fiasco during the 2020, it is not surprising Johnson has ousted him as Education Secretary. Williamson was vilified first for ignoring warnings there may be issues with exam results, then for subsequently defending the woeful algorithm that decided students grades.
Chief executive of the Conservative thinktank Bright Blue, Ryan Shorthouse said Johnson seemed to be “rewarding those who are good at publicity and removing those that have had overwhelmingly negative or no media for their work.
“Raab has been demoted for Afghanistan. Williamson departs because of exams and assessment. Jenrick for planning reforms. Buckland for relative silence,” he said.
Buckland’s removal as Justice Secretary has been speculated as a way to make room for Raab, and is considered a surprise to many.
Sir Bob Neill, a Tory MP who chairs the Commons justice select committee, criticised Buckland’s firing, saying he “deserved better” and was “shabbily treated”.
“I can see no good reason for it at all,” he said, adding that Buckland was “doing a good job as justice secretary and, crucially, understood the constitutional importance of the lord chancellor as a guardian of the justice system – and he was entirely loyal to the prime minister”.
Downing Street also appeared to indicate intent to pursue a culture war as accusers railed at their ‘anti-woke’ agenda after outspoken critic of the BBC and former I’m A Celebrity contestant Nadine Dorries was appointed as Culture Secretary.
Johnson denied this accusation, and described Dorries as a “rising star” who could communicate well with the public.
Other notable figures including Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, and Welsh Secretary Simon Hart have re-secured their positions after rumours circulating that they could lose their post.
Patel famously breached the Ministerial Code in 2017 after details of unauthorised meetings between herself and the government of Israel emerged which ended her tenure as International Development Secretary.
However she rose to the position of Home Secretary under Johnson’s premiership in July 2019.
Defended ardently by Johnson amidst a series of controversies including the circumstances surrounding the Sarah Everard vigil and the actions of the Metropolitan Police, she retains her position.
All in all, Johnson is signalling the direction his government will be taking into the 2024 election. He is forming the groundwork early in a battle to reinvigorate Tory traditional voters, while taking on the task of appeasing and dealing with the many Labour voters who turned their way in the last general election.
With Brexit no longer a question, time will tell if Johnson’s Conservatives will manage to find commonality between these two voter groups, or if the first time Tory voters of 2019 make it their last time.
Do the Conservatives have enough to receive continued support from previous Labour voters? A huge challenge lies ahead as the temporary alliance to ‘Get Brexit Done’ may be coming to an end.
Feature image credit: Sky News