The Daily Telegraph
Reshuffle was the right word for it. Literally defined as “interchanging the positions of members of a team”, this was not so much a case of out with the old, in with the new but of using the same players in different positions.
Arguably the tactic that took the Tory faithful most by surprise was the redeployment of former Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove to Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. The man who had taken so much pride in abbreviating his previous role as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to “CDL” is now to be known as Mihocologo. How fitting that it should sound like the sort of thing that’s played in the early hours in the nightclubs of Aberdeen.
And that was not all. Being the Prime Minister’s resident “details man”, Gove was given added responsibility for levelling up, the unions and elections, proving that no job is too big for the former running mate who famously claimed he would make a better PM than Boris Johnson.
It seems the old adage about keeping friends close and enemies closer has come to define Johnson’s relationship with the Tory colleague who stabbed him in the front during the 2017 leadership race.
There was also perhaps something to be said for landing Gove not only with dealing with the fallout from the Tories’ hugely unpopular planning reforms – but also the food shortages that are threatening supplies of pigs in blankets this Christmas. Not to mention the future of the United Kingdom.
Johnson clearly believes Gove can save the Government’s bacon on a number of fronts, and will no doubt be happy for him to take the blame if he doesn’t. It seemed doubly surprising to give Gove even more responsibility when he has been dogged by rumours about his private life following his separation from Sarah Vine and nightclub visit.
As one Tory grandee put it: “This is the biggest question. Most Tories think he’s a devious, conniving so and so and yet Boris keeps on giving him job after job. This is the graveyard shift where he’s going to find himself in a tooth and nail fight with his Conservative colleagues as well as Tory voters. There’s this perception of Gove that he gets the job done but the man seems to have absolutely no principles. He can make the case for black and then the case for white. He’s interested in one thing and one thing only. Himself. He always kisses up and with Boris he spends his whole time stroking him. The Prime Minister likes having him around because he’s always challenging him but as Boris well knows – he’s not trustworthy.”
The same can arguably be said of keeping Priti Patel as Home Secretary, to ensure that any criticism concerning the mismanagement of the migrant crisis is left firmly at her door, rather than Downing Street’s.
Similarly, Rishi Sunak’s confirmation as Chancellor appeared to suggest a willingness to share the burden of the backlash over the proposed Health and Social Care levy with someone who already had the blood of butchered Thatcherite economics on his hands.
While anyone who had done their homework could have foreseen the departure of the Department for Education’s resident Frank Spencer, Gavin Williamson, the sacking of respected former lawyer Robert Buckland as Lord High Chancellor seemed an unnecessarily inauspicious end to the career of a minister who has weathered the pandemic better than most.
Unlike Amanda “Who?” Milling’s departure as party chairman, and Robert Jenrick’s removal as the housing secretary, the Welshman didn’t seem to have done much to deserve it.
Anyone hoping Mr Johnson would replace what has long been regarded as a rather supine Cabinet of inexperience with a few Tory grey hairs were left disappointed. His old friend Nadine Dorries was promoted from health minister to Culture Secretary while Liz Truss’s elevation from Trade Secretary to Foreign Secretary appeared designed to keep the sometimes outspoken minister out of the
‘There’s this perception of Gove that he gets the job done, but he seems to have absolutely no principles’
country for as long as possible. With Ben Wallace remaining at defence, Kwasi Kwarteng staying at the Department for Business, Alok Sharma continuing as chairman of COP26, and Mark Spencer carrying on as chief whip, this was hardly the stuff of transfer window fantasy. By the time we read that Grant Shapps was remaining as Transport Secretary and Therese Coffey as Work and Pensions Secretary it appeared to be game over. Those who did move, such as former Treasury chief Stephen Barclay to the Cabinet Office and former culture secretary Oliver Dowden to Conservative Campaign Headquarters, were already wearing the team shirt and had simply swapped numbers. Sure Nadhim Zahawi was a surprise as Williamson’s replacement as Education Secretary but not when you consider that his ability to handle a broadcast round without making a complete and utter twit of himself more than qualified him for the position. This was less Paris Saintgermain buying Messi and more Gareth Southgate deciding to play right back Kieran Trippier at left back during the Euros, while refusing to start with Jack Grealish. Up and coming players with potential were once again left to languish on the backbenches while there was no return for any Ronaldo-style Peter Pan politicians.
It wasn’t creative, it didn’t inspire confidence and it suggested over caution by a manager seemingly intent on being the only star at No 10.