Since becoming prime minister in July 2019, many of Boris Johnson’s senior ministers have remained in position; last week’s reshuffle marks the biggest shake up in the cabinet in over two years.
There have been four notable departures; Gavin Williamson as Education Secretary was the first to go in an expected departure. Nadhim Zahawi, who has been overseeing the UK’s vaccination programme, will replace Williamson in a major promotion.
Robert Buckland has been removed as Justice Secretary, which prompted some criticism from Conservative MPs; Chair of the Justice Select Committee Robert Neill MP told Politics Home that Buckland “crucially, understood the constitutional importance of the Lord Chancellor as a guardian of the justice system”.
Former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has been ‘demoted’ to Justice Secretary, and secured himself the title of Deputy Prime Minister, during a tense negotiation with Johnson. Liz Truss, a loyal supporter of the Prime Minister, will replace Rabb, having been a key figure in delivering the Government’s vision of post-Brexit Britain as International Trade Secretary.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, was next to go, along with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government itself. In what is now a clear promotion, Michael Gove will head up the rebranded Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, giving him responsibility for an issue at the heart of the government’s priorities.
Lastly Amanda Milling was sacked as co-chair of the Conservative Party, replaced by Oliver Dowden. Dowden’s appointment could be seen as a nod towards a potential 2023 General Election; he is said to have told his new colleagues at CCHQ that “you can’t fatten a pig on market day”. In another big promotion, Nadine Dorries is replacing Dowden as Culture Secretary. An avid supporter of the Prime Minister, Dorries is seen as an “anti-woke” figure and some commentators see her appointment as a potential salvo in the ongoing ‘culture wars’.
With this reshuffle, Boris Johnson is drawing a line under what has so far defined his premiership – Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.
It indicates a clear refocus on the agenda the Conservative’s campaigned on in 2019; in particular, Michael Gove’s appointment reveals a desire in Number 10 to turn rhetoric around levelling up, into action. With a reputation as a ‘doer’ within government, Gove’s new ministry will provide him with the reach to set serious action in motion. Conservative MPs seem to be welcoming the changes, with one stating that the “need for competence has been recognised”.
Many of the promotions seem to be motivated by loyalty, with Johnson surrounding himself with his supporters and, perhaps most tellingly, not his potential successors. While Johnson has retained some major players in cabinet, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel, he has placed some less familiar – and dare we say less tainted? – names into key Departments, potentially with the aim to return ministers to a certain level of anonymity with the public.
As the Government attempts to move beyond Covid-19, this reshuffle is undoubtedly an effort to distance the Government from those who have garnered the most criticism. The notoriety of certain mid-ranking cabinet ministers, most notably Gavin Williamson, an indicator of how things have been going.
As the Government attempts to bounce back from recent by-election defeats, and the party machine gears up to fight yet another general election, it is clear that the Prime Minister wants to present a fresher face for government, moving away from those associated with some of the government’s perceived missteps of the past two years.