Sunak reshuffle road to oblivion?

It seems to be a sign of a prime minister’s prowess that new departments are created or existing departments are reshaped during their tenure. All politicians want to leave their mark but there is always a parallel agenda. Promoting loyal supporters and getting rid of those causing trouble, and of course, those who have found to have broken the rules.

The need to replace the ambitious Nadhim Zahawi came after he was sacked as Chair of the Conservative Party and Minister without Portfolio for breaching the ministerial code.  All that Rishi Sunak needed to do was to appoint a new Chair of the Conservative Party and give them a seat at the cabinet table.

But Sunak instead decided on a mini reshuffle.

The new department structure was heralded as delivering Rishi Sunak’s five promises: to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists and stop the boats.

Grow the economy? Fair enough but not in the short term. Halve inflation? Only perhaps in the margins. Reduce debt? No way. Cut waiting lists? Irrelevant. Stop the boats? Of course not. The reorganisation of departments that might prove a lasting legacy for the UK but it will have no impact on the Tories electoral prospects.

There is sense in much of the reorganisation. Creating a Department for Energy Security and Net Zero makes sense in a time when energy security is at the fore of political agendas. It could also mean that the climate emergency could get the attention it deserves after being somewhat neglected by ministers of late. Breaking up the unfocused Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy by removing energy also has a degree of sense, though it’s budget will be cut to a third as it shrinks to the Department for Business and Trade. The Department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport loses its digital brief. That always felt like that had been bolted on in wont of anywhere to put it. A dedicated Department for Science, Innovation and Technology is welcome. But there are buts…

Creating new departments is expensive, maybe £50m a time. More important is the disruption caused by reorganisation, appointment of new principals, regrouping in new offices and ministers getting to know their new job. If such disruption occurred at the beginning of an administration, there would be time to let everything settle before the next general election. But Sunak’s administration has just two years left before the Conservatives go into battle mode in an attempt to win another term of office. That means strategies will be rushed. Too many rushed strategies have failed or have had to be reversed. Changing the machinery of government will not win an election just over the horizon.

The science and innovation portfolio has long been a backwater without its own secretary of state to champion the causes of basic science, applied science and technology at the cabinet table. It has been kicked around from department to department for too many years. Sunak says the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology will focus on positioning the UK at the forefront of global scientific and technological advancement. Why then did he appoint a secretary of state with a background in history and politics, not a scientist?

Michael Gove is reported as having declined leaving levelling up to become the head of the new science department. His reward perhaps is that all capital expenditure in his department must now be approved by the Treasury. He looks like he is on the naughty step.

Someone who should be on the naughty step is Lee Anderson. He’s the MP who said nurses using food banks could not budget, that you could cook for a family for 30p a day and attacked England footballers for taking the knee. He is now deputy chairman of the Conservative Party despite being a Labour councillor until 2018. And he favours bringing back hanging.

There good ideas behind the reorganisation but it is too late to make any difference before the Tories have face to the electorate again. The choice of some minsters shows that is Rishi Sunak implementing a theory without have the ministerial team to deliver it in practice.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk.

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4 Comments

  • Mel Borthwaite 9th Feb '23 - 6:55pm

    There is no doubt that some users of food banks are people who have difficulties budgeting or have inappropriate spending priorities. For example, a close friend who works in a food bank described a conversation she had with a young woman who admitted that the reason why she was short of cash for food was that she had just paid her £50 per month mobile phone contract. That said, anecdotes like these do not take away from the fact that many users of food banks live very frugal lifestyles but just have too little income to cover basic needs.

  • > If such disruption occurred at the beginning of an administration, there would be time to let everything settle before the next general election. But Sunak’s administration has just two years left
    I think we should be thankful that Rishi, being a relative newbie to Westminster and party politics, is probably not that good at party politics, but is good at thinking and so has created something that makes a lot of sense.

  • There was a comment from the audience of last nights Question Time: a nurse who has worked a 12 hour shift should be followed by Mr Anderson to see if he could sort out a meal for that amount of money.

  • Nigel Ashton 10th Feb '23 - 11:58am

    The machinery of government changes are welcome irrespective of the personnel, but there is nothing new under the sun.

    A separate Department of Energy should never have been abolished in the first place, especially given the climate emergency. Bringing International Trade back into what is essentially the former Department of Trade and Industry is welcome, although I can’t help thinking of it as a souped-up Board of Trade. Harold Wilson created the Ministry of Technology in 1964, again much needed in present times.

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