Tue. Oct 19th, 2021


British politics and policy updates

Here’s a secret. How can you tell if the ministers are good at running their departments? You can not! Most ministers are judged on whether they can go on TV and draw up lines they have not written, to defend policies they have not drawn up, the results of which are unlikely to be long enough.

So, thank you, Boris Johnson. He appointed some ministers so badly that everyone could see their shortcomings: Dominic Raab, Robert Jenrick, Gavin Williamson. This week’s cabinet shuffle did not cut dead wood. It was to remove ministers who had accidentally started making forest fires. Williamson’s dismissal was so predictable that it could be auctioned off at the Tories’ Black-and-White Ball fundraiser.

But what does this rearrangement tell us about Johnson? First, for all his stubborn actions, the prime minister does not care who runs the justice system. Raab, who failed as secretary of foreign affairs, becomes secretary of justice, with deputy prime minister as consolation. Only in Britain can you be demoted to deputy premier, but still it’s nice to see Raab finally work hard to relocate someone – even if it’s himself.

What else? That Johnson wants to promote women? Please. The percentage of women attending the cabinet – 27 percent – is now lower than when Tony Blair left office in 2007.

The reshuffle does explode the myth that Johnson ignores public pressure. Since last year, the Daily Mail has called for the dismissals of Jenrick, traveling svengali Dominic Cummings and then-health secretary Matt Hancock, and that Williamson and Raab should consider their positions. The Prime Minister seems to have listened. Three senior Tories fired Wednesday were at the bottom of a approval survey of party members through the website ConservativeHome. Public and party opinion matters.

Johnson, says his supporters, wants his government to achieve things before an election in 2023 or 2024. That means a bigger role for Michael Gove, now secretary of housing and responsible for the leveling mission. Gove is seen as a problem solver, a strange idea for anyone who remembers how he participated in Britain leaving the EU.

Part of the government’s problem is that while it wants to accept many donations from real estate developers, it also needs to win many votes from people who do not like real estate developers. Maybe it can find ways to encourage old, wealthy Tory voters to sell their homes to young, not-so-rich, non-Tory voters. Gove will definitely find it a bit.

The promotion of Nadhim Zahawi, formerly the minister responsible for the successful roll-out of vaccines, to secretary of education, is another sign of the government’s desire to define itself by competence. Maybe it will work. More likely, the Brexit-tightened skills shortage, a resistance to more tax increases or lend, and a lack of clear reforms limited achieved.

Since Johnson took nearly two years to draft his plan for social care; I do not like many new policies, no matter how good the ministers are. That said, the government is apparently planning to bring back imperial measures, which means we are finally free to say how much Secretary of the House, Priti Patel, has put in her mouth in every mouthful.

There are many bad ministers left. This is partly a structural issue. There is 136 government opportunities to distribute among 363 Tory MPs, many of them having legs, newbies and oddballs. There are simply not enough talented MPs to go around.

This week is only Johnson’s latest attempt at reinvention. He had previously promised to control obesity vetoed a tax about unhealthy foods. He promised to lead the world in the field of climate, and then stopped at climate policy. It is difficult for voters to work out if ministers have not delivered. It’s much easier to work out if a prime minister did that too.

henry.mance@ft.com



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