After all the talk of a Valentine’s Day massacre and a massive departmental shake-up, the only real surprise has been the resignation of Chancellor Sajid Javid. Even his successor, Rishi Sunak, was tipped for Cabinet and so the top table looks remarkably unchanged post-reshuffle. For all the rumours, Ben Wallace stays as Defence Secretary, Liz Truss remains at DIT – the longest-serving Cabinet member, possibly against all the odds – and Jacob Rees-Mogg is still Leader of the House. There is no new climate change spin-off from BEIS (yet) and the focus some were hoping a new infrastructure department might bring hasn’t materialised either.
Along with Rishi Sunak, Oliver Dowden has been rewarded for his early intervention in the leadership contest when, along with Sunak and Robert Jenrick (who remains as Communities Secretary), the three backed Boris. It would seem loyalty continues to be rewarded.
Although it is clear that Sunak is a No10 favourite, that does not mean Boris and his advisers can expect total subservience. The run-up to the Budget (no longer a sure-thing for the 11th March) will probably be a harmonious love-in between numbers 10 and 11, but after that the new Chancellor may well want to demonstrate that he is no puppet. And can Boris really afford to lose two chancellors in a short space of time?
With the merging of advisers from numbers 10 and 11, the once all-powerful Treasury is clearly considered by No10 to be a thing of the past, so who to take on next? If Dominic Cummings continues to have his way then we can assume that Suella Braverman has been brought in to replace Geoffrey Cox as Attorney General precisely because of her desire to see the judiciary cut down to size, and that Oliver Dowden at DCMS will not be giving the BBC an easy ride. Our institutions may look very different at the end of this parliament.
If it was once true that a bid for the leadership would ensure a job in your rival’s team, then this reshuffle shows this is no longer be the case. Only three of Boris’ leadership rivals remain in the Cabinet, with five on the back benches, two are junior ministers and two are no longer members of the Tory Party. How loyal will the clearly ambitious Javid, McVey and Leadsom be now that they are no longer bound by collective responsibility? Presumably Javid’s (former) SpAds will be feeling far more loyal to their old boss than to the men who forced his hand (making him choose between his job and his team) and so Dom Cummings can surely be expecting some uncomfortable headlines in the coming weeks, now that they are free to take lunch from any journalist they choose.
Making the most of the changes – some advice for businesses
The general election result, with its presidential-style campaign, handed clear power to No10. Yesterday’s reshuffle consolidates that and shows that the Prime Minister and his advisers have every intention of ensuring Whitehall knows who the real decision-makers are.
In advancing a cause or a project, it will not be enough to have the minister or secretary of state on your side in this government – organisations will need to ensure that No10 also give its backing to any asks of a department, particularly if it involves spending. Don’t assume ministerial support is an end in itself, but instead prepare ministers to be your advocates, ready to make the case for you at the top tier of government.
In that preparation, it’s important to resist the urge to dive straight in with a request that the minister fix your industry / understand how awful your competitors are / tell you what the trade deal is going to look like. Letters of congratulations that start with an early demand for time/money/legislation at a point when the new minister is trying to understand the full extent of their brief are likely to receive a ‘not now’ response or be fobbed-off to a junior official. This is a government that we can reasonably assume has ambitions to last well into the decade. Much better to aim for a lasting, meaningful relationship that positions you as a part of the solution and not another problem to deal with.