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Cabinet shuffles are at the same time moments of maximum power and great danger for a prime minister, as Boris Johnson experienced on Wednesday when he appreciated an angry Dominic Raab from the foreign office.
“Reform creates enemies,” says a former minister. Boris surrounded himself with spineless disorders. The reform must be radical and significantly improve the quality of people in the cabinet. ”
Johnson’s premiership has reached its critical mid-term, and he needs to show that he is implementing the flagship conservative policy. His cabinet shuffle will be judged on one criterion: whether the new team will turn an 80-seat majority of the House of Commons into action.
After months of threats, Johnson’s popularity declined among Tory activists, but the reform showed considerable confidence as he took away what he considered a dead wood and promoted potential competitors.
Raab’s defenestration of the Office of Foreign, Commonwealth and Development led to the biggest confrontation of the day when the Secretary of State spoke about the conditions of his departure.
Raab was furious in Johnson’s Commons’ office because he was the apparent scapegoat for the symbolic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the prospect of his new role as secretary of justice.
Johnson’s offer of the title “deputy prime minister” as compensation was considered a “ball” by a senior Tory MP. Most conservatives saw the move as a cruel degradation.
Gavin Williamson was fired as education secretary after series errors. The former Tory chief whip will now be a formidable enemy on the back seats – a man who carries resentment and has many secrets.
Robert Buckland was popular throughout the Tory party as secretary of justice and his dismissal, to vacate a new cabinet post for Raab, which sparked outrage. “He is collateral damage,” said Sir Bob Neill, Conservative chairman of the Commission on Justice. “This is not a fair way to treat a capable and loyal minister.”
But Johnson was urged by allies to be decisive, and his promotion of Liz Truss as his new foreign secretary was a sign of confidence. She was at the top of a recent ConservativeHome poll among party activists with a positive approval rating of 85, compared to 12 for Johnson.
Truss is considered a success as an international trade secretary, and he publishes a series of post-Brexit trade agreements, several of which are expected to have minimal economic impact. She will now become the relentlessly positive face of “global Britain”.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, with a ConservativeHome approval of 74, remains surprisingly close to the treasury, meaning that two potential rivals for the Tory leadership are now sitting at the top of the cabinet table.
Johnson’s focus on delivery meanwhile means a crucial role for Michael Gove, who backed the prime minister during his bid for party leadership in 2016 at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.
It’s not traditionally the most glamorous department, but it’s crucial to Johnson’s ‘equalization’ agenda to tackle local inequalities – including through controversial planning reforms in England. Gove is also in charge of the fight against the Scottish National Party for Scottish independence.
Amanda Milling, co-chair of the Conservatives, was ousted after the Tory by-elections in Chesham and Amersham against the Liberal Democrats, which aroused fears of a weakening in the conservative “blue wall” in the south of England.
In her place is Oliver Dowden, formerly Secretary of Culture, and a veteran of the government of David Cameron. “Oliver will get a grip on the party organization,” said one Tory. “He’s a slick southern Tory, which we need.”
The promotion of Dowden and Truss, who both pleaded for Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum, is portrayed by number 10 insiders as proof that the cabinet shuffle was determined by competence, not ideology.
Other ministers rising through the ranks include Nadhim Zahawi, formerly Minister of Vaccinations, who is becoming education secretary. Johnson hopes Zahawi’s effective oversight of the UK vaccination campaign can get off to a good start, as he now implements a catch-up program for children in England’s schools following the coronavirus crisis.
Steve Barclay, a no-nonsense treasury minister with a rare enthusiasm for the use of data in policy, moves to the cabinet office to get his hands on the central government machine.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan returns to the cabinet as secretary of international trade, while Nadine Dorries was perhaps the biggest surprise in the reform: she becomes secretary of culture.
These appointments helped address allegations that Johnson’s team was light on senior women, but one Tory LP said: ‘Nadine is bleeding Dorries. Who decided on LSD at the time? ”
Some Tory MPs believe that the right wing – formerly an opponent of gay marriage – has been given the task of stepping up the government’s culture war ‘with public bodies such as the BBC, rather than its power.
The uproar, and in particular the removal of ministers associated with numerous negative headlines, has been widely welcomed by Conservative MPs, some of whom have begun to doubt Johnson.
His recent decision to raise taxes to fund the NHS and social care, the debacle in Afghanistan and the prospect of new Covid-19 restrictions this fall have led some in the party to be questioned by the prime minister.
“People in the Commons tea room started after him as ‘Johnson,’ not ‘Boris,'” a former minister said. “It’s quite striking. This is a big moment for him. “
Three cabinet shuffle beneficiaries
Liz Truss, Secretary of State
Liz Truss, a popular and charismatic member of the prime minister’s top team, becomes the second woman in history to lead the foreign office.
The 46-year-old has been a Member of Parliament since 2010 and is one of the most free-market-minded ministers in government. One diplomat said: “She has a good relationship with people.”
Truss was a campaigner at the time during the Brexit referendum in 2016, tweeting: “Leave cannot name a country with which we would have a better trade agreement if we left the EU.”
But since being appointed international trade secretary in 2019, Truss has strictly defended the trade agreements reached after Brexit.
Earlier, as Secretary of the Environment, she achieved a cult status on social media after declaring that Britain’s trade deficit in cheese was a disgrace during the Conservative Party’s conference in 2014.
In addition to her new role, Truss will retain her position as Minister for Women and Equality.
Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of Education
As for his political future, the rapid rollout of British coronavirus vaccines, Boris Johnson turns to his old friend Nadhim Zahawi. Like the prime minister, Zahawi was ahead of Brexit and developed a reputation as a maverick.
The 54-year-old British Kurdish MP entered parliament in 2010 but fell behind for eight years. He was then appointed Minister of Schools when Theresa May was Prime Minister.
Johnson appointed Zahawi the Minister of Vaccination last year. Although he was one of several ministers overseeing the vaccination program – the biggest logistical challenge facing the British state in modern decades – Zahawi received praise from Tory MPs for his confident actions in the media.
Now he faces a major challenge to rebuild trust in the education department following the chaotic leadership of Gavin Williamson during the coronavirus crisis. One ally of Zahawi said: “He knows it will be difficult, but he will enjoy the new challenge.”
Nadine Dorries, Cultural Secretary
The surprising appointment of Nadine Dorries as cultural secretary is a sign that Boris Johnson intends to pursue a challenging stance on cultural issues, rather than return.
In 2017, Dorries summed up her position in a tweet: “Left-wing snowflakes kill comedy, demolish historical statues, remove books from universities.”
Dorries, 46, has been a longtime critic of the BBC, describing the public service broadcaster as “a biased left-wing organization”.
Dorries, a former nurse, was first elected to parliament in 2005. She was sharply critical of the Conservative party led by David Cameron and George Osborne, even describing them as ‘arrogant posh boys’.” who did not know the price of milk.
Dorries does not play by Westminster’s traditional rules. She appeared on a reality television program and is one of the most successful novelists to join the cabinet since Disraeli.