It seems the estimable editor of ConservativeHome, Mr Paul Goodman, was the only one to foresee the departure of Sajid Javid as chancellor. That’s why he’s on the big bucks.
Clearly Boris and his team thought that Sajid would cave, just as all the other ministers did, who were threatened with losing their special advisors. This is one of those occasions where it’s entirely possible to see both sides of the argument. If I had been Sajid I’d like to think I’d have done the same thing, but on the other hand from Number Ten’s point of view, they want to avoid all the PM-Chancellor rows that have bedevilled various administrations over the years. We all remember the TeeBeeGeeBees of the Blair government. We remember how Margaret Thatcher’s government was partially destroyed by the breakdown between her and her chancellor, Nigel Lawson over the role of Sir Alan Walters. We remember the fallout between Theresa May and her advisers, and Philip Hammond and his. So I get it. I really do. But of course the writeups in all the papers have all been about how Dominic Cummings has triumphed over Sajid and his ally Carrie. The pundits are of course using phrases like ‘classic Dom’. Iain Martin from Reaction commented in a tweet that in the latest piece of reshuffle news ‘Boris Johnson has accepted the role of deputy prime minister’. Lols.
The Number 10 /Treasury liaison unit needs to be staffed very carefully, mindful of the fact that the new chancellor, Rishi Sunak cannot be allowed to be portrayed as a supplicant. I hope it’s headed up by Eddie Lister. He’s a natural conciliator.
The success of this cabinet is going to depend in large part on which ministers can pull alongside Michael Gove and earn the description of being ‘transformational’. They all have the opportunity to do it, but which are most likely to succeed? I have very high hopes of Alok Sharma, the new Business Secretary. He comes into the department with very little baggage and the full backing of the PM. Brandon Lewis in Northern Ireland has a huge opportunity to build on Julian Smith’s legacy. Sometimes it pays to be in the right place at the right time. He is a natural coalition builder and I suspect Northern Ireland will take to him in a way that it hasn’t with others. Grant Shapps is building a very positive reputation at Transport and the fate of the whole government will depend in some part on his ability to juggle the various transport priorities. George Eustice at DEFRA has a huge opportunity to make a big impact, but needs to look to Michael Gove as his example. He transformed that department. But it is Therese Coffey and Matt Hancock who have the biggest opportunities to be transformational – Coffey in the field of universal credit and Hancock on social care. I wish them all luck.
Reshuffles are a time when old scores can be settled, not just by the prime minister of the day, but also by his advisers and also cabinet ministers. Some sackings appear at first sight utterly incomprehensible, but dig a little deeper and there’s always a reason. Take the case of Transport minister Nus Ghani. She was one of the few Jeremy Hunt supporters to survive the cull in when Boris Johnson appointed his first government in July. It could be that she crept under the wire and no one had spotted her support for Hunt. Unlikely, though. Was it because she was an incompetent minister? My friends in the Transport sector thought she was rather good in dealing with them in the maritime and aviation sectors. It is possible, I suppose, that Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, put the black spot on her – and indeed another of his junior ministers, George Freeman. All in all, it seems very odd to sack a young, BAME minister who has done nothing obviously wrong. But that’s politics, I suppose.
With the departure of Esther McVey we are now on our tenth housing minister in ten years. I’m sorry to see Esther leave government, but that appointment was never going to work. For someone who had been a full cabinet member, to then be appointed as number two to the cabinet’s youngest minister was always going to be a tough ask. Housing is one of the most important jobs in government and should be a full cabinet position on its own. The new housing minister must stay in the post for the rest of this parliament. It’s the only way that a proper housing strategy can be implemented properly.
Can you imagine any politician other than Rory Stewart getting away with using a campaign hashtag #comekipwithme? He’s asking Londoners to let him sleep overnight in their homes. That way, he says, he can really find out what they think. He’s done it before. During his 21 month trek across Afghanistan he stayed with 500 different families. Apparently more than 500 people have offered to put him up for the night and chew his ear. I interviewed him about it on Tuesday, when he recounted his visit to Lorraine in Newham last week. He sat up late into the night, sitting on the floor in his pyjamas chatting away. Woah. Not weird at all… The London mayoral campaign hasn’t really sprung into life yet, possibly because everyone accepts that Sadiq Khan will romp to victory. Given Labour’s travails at the moment, this ought not to be the case, and you can bet your bottom dollar his campaign will hardly mention Labour. At least, that’s if his campaign team have any sense. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, Shaun Bailey, the Tory candidate shows no sign of making any breakthrough whatsoever, and with Rory Stewart’s intervention it’s difficult to see how he can win.
This article first appeared on ConservativeHome on 14 February.