UK Government Reshuffle 2021

16/09/2021

Boris Johnson has reshuffled his pack – out with the old and in with the new that promise to ‘Build Back Better.’ Loyalty and presentation appear to be some of the central themes driving promotion, while those such as Dominic Raab and Gavin Williamson have suffered as a result of well publicised errors, mishaps and, in the case of the latter, a shocking case of mistaken identity. Notably, women now occupy two of the four great offices of state for only the second time, though we will have to wait for today’s ministerial reshuffle to get a full overview of the comings and goings across government.

For now, we have analysed the key Cabinet appointments and provided thoughts on what could be in their in-tray.

Gavin Williamson’s tenure was marred by the mismanagement of the A Level and GCSE situation both this year and last. His relationship with the National Association of Head Teachers was massively strained, and he ultimately lost the support of teachers and parents. The task for Nadhim Zahawi is to reset the relationship with headteachers and pull out the stops to ensure this current school year will not be as turbulent as the previous two. His promotion to Cabinet comes on the heels of a widely perceived job well done overseeing the COVID vaccine roll-out.

Robert Buckland’s tenure ended in an abrupt but not unexpected fashion; the department has had seven different Lord Chancellors since 2010. He worked hard to strengthen victims’ rights and worked closely with the Home Office on issues relating to violence against women and girls and domestic abuse. He was lauded for the personal apology he made to those rape victims the system had failed and pledged to bring conviction rates back to 2016 levels. A significant challenge for Dominic Raab is to clear the court backlog which was already enormous but exacerbated by the pandemic.

Dominic Raab has been removed as Foreign Secretary primarily due to his mishandling of the Afghanistan crisis. He declined to take a call from his Afghani counterpart while on holiday, instead delegating it to a junior minister in his absence. Once Raab returned home from his family holiday, he was met with a rapidly fluid crisis which concluded with thousands still being left stranded in Afghanistan and facing an imminent risk from the Taliban. Following a testy conversation with the Prime Minister however he has been able to save face by eliciting a ‘bump-up’ and secondary job of Deputy Prime Minister.

Liz Truss now has some difficult decisions to make. British foreign policy has been torn up thanks to the events in Afghanistan. Will she look towards the US or across the Channel? Nonetheless whichever route she will take, she will need to decide what steps to take to balance against an emboldened China and Russia. Truss will also need to take a firm stance on Iran and North Korea’s respective nuclear weapons programmes in an attempt to dial down the rhetoric. The connections built as Trade Secretary could come to the fore, though critics might argue she was the beneficiary of a number of rollover trade deals and question how deep her international links truly are. With Global Britain struggling to launch due in part to Brexit and the pandemic, the question is whether the new role of Foreign Secretary will provide Truss greater clout to prove the doubters wrong. Popular with the party grassroots however, her promotion was widely tipped and will be perceived by some as an attempt by Boris to curb any desires she has for the ultimate top job - for now.

Michael Gove has taken on the Housing Secretary role. While some may view this as demotion, it is clever thinking from Johnson; Gove is an active individual and wants to see progress made. Housing is an area that needs rapid attention and Gove is renowned for being a ‘doer.’ Gove inherits a portfolio that has questions to answer regarding the Grenfell legacy and the cladding crisis. He also must contend with a housing shortage that has seen average house prices grow nationwide during the pandemic, as well as looking at second home ownership and the effect it has on communities. His wider role, with responsibility for levelling up and the Union, point to a minister central to delivering the Prime Minister’s core policy agenda.

Oliver Dowden leaves DCMS to become Tory party chair. He leaves behind a department that has been exceptionally busy over the past 18 months despite being one of the smallest Whitehall departments. His message to CCHQ on arrival was incredibly clear – start preparations for the next election. Nationwide, gigabit broadband remains a Johnson priority and Nadine Dorries will likely need to continue to work closely with the sports and arts sectors over what could be a bumpy autumn and winter should restrictions return. A substantial part of her focus however seems likely to be on culture, something her predecessor had been accused of stoking. Dorries could be set to take this one step further.