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Opinion: The Not So Mini Reshuffle

Today, the Prime Minister held what was briefed as a mini-reshuffle of his top team.

This was clearly not something in Rishi Sunak’s plan, however his hand was forced following the investigation into the former Conservative Party Chairman, Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs.

As planned by Number 10, this significant change in the governance of Whitehall has moved the allegations of sleaze momentarily down the list of headlines.

Who are they?

First, the Prime Minister appointed energy expert, Greg Hands as the new safe pair of hands as Party Chairman.

Next, the Prime Minister appointed the Duracell bunny campaigner, Grant Shapps as Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero (although Shapps may not be so happy when he realises that holding the Net Zero brief in the party amounts to career suicide).

Following an Australian company’s plan to buy British Volt, once lauded as the pin up of future British industrial capability in a post-Brexit economy, Sunak decided to merge the Departments of Trade and Business together – appointing Kemi Badenoch as the new Secretary of State.

Unfortunately for the trans community, Badenoch retains her role as Minister for Women and Equalities.

The former Housing Minister and very close friend of Sunak, Lucy Frazer is the biggest winner of the reshuffle securing a new Secretary of State title and an office on Whitehall as Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport – but she loses the digital brief.

Eyebrows were raised however across Westminster with the appointment of Michelle Donelan as Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology. Donelan began her career as a Marketing Assistant at Marie Claire before becoming a Marketing Executive at World Wrestling Entertainment promoting professional wrestling.

As the Government places more focus on it’s innovation and technology offer, the brief is increasingly becoming one of the most important across Government. Long standing Minister of State self-confessed science nerd, George Freeman was appointed Minister of State.

Expensive deckchairs

Rishi Sunak has already been accused of “frittering away” £60 million of taxpayer’s money on his reshuffle.

The highly respected Institute for Government highlighted the significant costs associated with a reshuffle of this nature. The cost of new branding, new IT infrastructure, human resources, office moves etc all cost money.

Despite the obvious merits of a reshuffle to reset the Government agenda, in a cost-of-living crisis, the public will quickly associate this as public money used to cover up sleaze allegations.

The Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office spokesperson, Christine Jardine said the “rudderless reshuffle” was proof that Sunak was “weaker by the day”.

“This reshuffle will cost the public millions while failing to change the trajectory of this government in crisis,” she said.

“Rather than fritter away tens of millions of taxpayers’ cash on costly vanity projects, Sunak should spend the money where its most needed. This cash could fund 25 million free school meals.”

The focus on science and innovation however is important. The Chancellor has placed a lot of emphasis on the need to focus on innovation to grow the economy out of recession. Despite the odd appointment to the post, a renewed focus (hopefully with something resembling a plan) may well help to refocus the Government’s strategy ahead of the next election.

Dominic Raab

Given the ongoing investigation into a significant volume of bullying allegations levelled against Sunak’s Deputy Dominic Raab, most in Westminster expect this to be the first in a series of reshuffles in the coming months.

Raab has been keen to deny the allegations as more stories of bullying across multiple departments drip into the press.

The fact this will not be the last reshuffle has been labelled by one Minister overlooked for promotion as “a missed opportunity to prune the deadwood”. The failure to reshuffle Raab out of government owing to the Prime Minister’s commitment to ‘due process’ presents a real failure of the Prime Minister to reset his top team and ultimately policy agenda.

Like Groundhog Day, expect to see an “I told you so” feature published by this journal in a few months’ (or weeks) time.

Dominic Raab may cause Rishi Sunak to reshuffle again
Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab is under investigation for multiple allegations of bullying

Who cares outside of Westminster?

This is not the closing of the transfer deadline day, these are not scintillating appointments with well-known household names.

Grant Shapps is probably the most famous and that is because he had a creepy looking elf in his cupboard over Christmas. (We are still having nightmares…)

Given the costs of a reshuffle, in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, a reshuffle of this magnitude may in fact backfire. Given the issues surrounding Raab’s future remain, this will be difficult for the Government to communicate to an already exasperated public.

The public want to know that the Government is competent – with Raab’s inquiry hanging around like a rotting fish in a heatwave, the Prime Minister limps on trying to set out his new narrative.

We look forward to seeing how the newly appointed Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, Lee Anderson (who was a long-time member of the Labour Party until 2018) will advocate for the Government’s credibility on the airwaves in the months to come.

Final thought

Not the most scintillating of reshuffles, with another planned in the foreseeable future, this reshuffle was more about the reorganisation of government for a Prime Minister who loves to micromanage the functioning of Government.

Will the reshuffle make the UK more agile to the opportunities of science and innovation? Probably, but time will tell.

Will it allow the Government to move on from allegations of sleaze? Not while Raab still sits around the Cabinet table.

This reshuffle has certainly distracted the papers for a couple of days, but expect the drip-drip of bullying allegations to continue in the weeks and months ahead.

Get the popcorn in now, the next reshuffle may be a little more interesting!

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