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Good morning. Rishi Sunak is reshuffling his cabinet. Among the agenda items: reorganization of the business department and the appointment of a new Conservative Party chairman. Some thoughts on the gamble he is taking and why in today’s note.
I know I said in yesterday’s newsletter that I would write my thoughts on Liz Truss’s comments, but clearly shuffling is preferred. Luckily Louis Ashworth has a great Fisking in Alphaville article on Truss.
Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenkb And please send gossip, thoughts and feedback to [email protected]
Catherine Haddon of the Institute for Government had a good phrase to describe Rishi Sunak’s first cabinet: “a winter cabinet which, like a winter wardrobe, is likely to be shuffled when better weather comes”.
The prime minister’s first cabinet is an uncomfortable fantasy designed to make it easier for the Conservative Party to swallow a series of unfortunate financial events. Their chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, was effectively chosen for them by Liz Truss in her final roll of the dice to keep her government on the road. His home secretary, Suella Braverman, is in place because Sunak (in my view, correctly) thought the job he needed was worth giving up for his support in the race to replace the truce. His foreign secretary, James Cleverly, is a holdover from the truce age, as he is a popular ally of Boris Johnson.
So, all that would justify a reshuffle at some point (combined with the need to select Nadim Zahavi’s successor). But the political weather hasn’t improved for Sunak. Far from it, in fact. Polling by Redfield and Wilton Put Labor 26 points ahead Biggest gain for the party since Sunak became prime minister.
The big picture story of Sunak’s premiership is this: he has made the Conservatives marginally less unpopular than when he took office, but the Conservative Party has made Sunak significantly more unpopular than when he became leader. has made it.
As Professor Will Jennings of the University of Southampton explains well in his (free!) Substack, much of the Conservative Party’s malaise is explained by the underlying social and economic fundamentals facing the UK. The party has been in power for 12 years and at this point we would expect most voters to blame it for most of Britain’s problems:
If one closely inspects the polling data it becomes clear that the spring of 2021 is a turning point Permission Conservative government.
This was the period when many believed that the threat of Covid had subsided. It can be argued that events since then have reflected the Covid “rally” in government support and accumulation, ignoring what political scientists call ‘governance costs’ (things like bad news and policy decisions that alienate specific subgroups). voters – gradually weakening the electoral coalition of the governing party).
The calculation Sunak has to consider is this: given the dire underlying fundamentals facing the UK, given his own declining opinion polls, will he ever be in the strong position he is in now? If they think the answer is “yes”, they should wait until then to do another reshuffle, as reshuffles always make prime ministers weaker and increase the number of their enemies. (Broadly speaking, not everyone you promote will thank you, but everyone you fire. Desire blame you.)
If he thinks the answer is “no”, he should make changes now, before local elections in May and whatever happens with Dominic Raab further undermine his authority.
Sunak has gone for the second option. He plans to fulfill his promise to break up the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and set up a new science ministry, according to his aides.
Has Sunak made the right choice? Well, the honest answer is: we’ll never know. it is possible can be unbelievably Badly, and we will see his reshuffle as a disastrous moment in the life of his government. But no matter how painful the result, we cannot say with certainty that he would have been better off if he had not done it.
But I’ll make a few general points:
1) Broadly speaking, because the entire civil service is set up to reward civil servants moving roles rather than staying in place, there is no real advantage to reorganizing individual departments. The Ministry of Science and Digital is not going to have more specialists than the DCMS or BEIS departments. If you want to do this, you need to start a more comprehensive program of civil service reform.
2) Reforming the institutions of government inevitably has consequences for the speed and effectiveness of the government’s approach to meeting other challenges. However, given that conservatives are too divided to pass meaningful legislation on most fronts, the cost of this is less than it appears.
3) Dividing government departments allows you to create more jobs and, therefore, gives you more patronage to hand over if you are a prime minister facing a fractious party. It is an important way to garner support ahead of tough local elections in May and what is likely to be an increasingly turbulent party.
4) However, if I had been advising Rishi Sunak, I would not have been tinkering today. Without angering the party’s many power brokers, the biggest upgrade for him would be to make changes to the Home Office. Everything else is trivial, frankly. But I don’t think he is strong enough to make that change. However, Sunak has made such clear promises to stop people arriving by small boats that the benefits of making changes are small.
Given that every reshuffle only adds to the ranks of sacked and disgruntled ministers on the backbenches, I just wouldn’t bother to be in Sunak’s shoes. I think he is in the midst of making a huge mistake.
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ft’s free school access program And the World Bank invites 16-19-year-old students from around the world to participate in its annual blog writing contest on overcoming disruption and preparing for employment. The deadline is March 31. Receive full details here Read more previous winning entries Here.
today’s top news
Biggest earthquake in Turkey and Syria in 84 years , Rescue teams in southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria worked through the night searching for survivors in towns and cities devastated by a powerful earthquake across the region that has killed nearly 5,000 people and injured more than 20,000.
project silverlight , Britain’s planned High Speed 2 rail line could be delayed by a further four years and the project could be cut further under plans being drawn up by ministers to rein in rising costs.
Treasury bets on ‘digital pound’ , The UK Treasury and the Bank of England are designing a “digital pound” that could replace banknotes by the end of the decade and fend off a Big Tech competitor.
standoff over nhs pay , Ministers have made clear they will not reopen pay negotiation for NHS staff in England for the current financial year.
Government urged to limit ‘generous’ pension relief , An influential think-tank has said the pension pot should be subject to inheritance tax and new limits should be placed on tax-free lump sum withdrawals for retirement savings.
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