The Daily Telegraph

Allister HEATH

The reshuffle has put a series of free-market radicals in high office, but are they really in power?

- Allister heath follow Allister Heath on Twitter @Allisterhe­ath; read more at opinion

On the face of it, Boris Johnson’s reshuffle is good news for disgruntle­d Tory voters, especially those of a Thatcherit­e persuasion. Whether it was because he was seeking to atone for last week’s absurd, nihilistic tax increases, or it was simply a lucky by-product of the usual politickin­g, Johnson has promoted a series of figures from the reformist wing of his party.

The most striking is Liz Truss: the born-again Brexiteer who covered herself with glory negotiatin­g trade deals is now Foreign Secretary, a much-deserved promotion. The most prominent libertaria­n in government, she remains a steadfast supporter of free markets, individual liberty and classical liberal values; the fact that she spoke out in Cabinet against the national insurance increase and lived to tell the tale suggests that all hope isn’t lost. Her replacemen­t as Trade Secretary, Anne-marie Trevelyan, will continue her drive towards free trade.

The useless Gavin Williamson’s defenestra­tion was long overdue: Nadhim Zahawi, a Brexiteer, will be a breath of fresh air at the Department for Education. A self-made millionair­e,

Zahawi, who was born in Iraq, represents the new, patriotic Tory party. His task will be to take on the unions that are using Covid as an excuse to ruin so many children’s lives, and the out-of-control, Left-wing university administra­tors.

While Dominic Raab’s demotion is unfair, at least he has ended up in charge of reforming human rights and criminal justice, areas where his instincts are spot on. Even Michael Gove’s shift to Communitie­s Secretary can be read as a positive. He supports building more homes, although will be hamstrung by the Government’s series of concession­s on planning reform.

Other Brexiteers have been promoted, and four out of five coauthors of Britannia Unchained, the radical free-market tract, hold Cabinet positions. The reshuffle also sends a powerful message about Tory meritocrac­y, with two of the top four offices of state held by women, and two by ethnic minorities.

Yet there were some strange decisions. Why was Oliver Dowden, veteran of the culture wars and surprise slayer of the woke, appointed party chairman? Why not a better role?

Even for the positive appointmen­ts, a fundamenta­l question remains: what will they actually change in the real world? How will Britain become noticeably more conservati­ve as a result? Truss, Zahawi and Raab are free-marketeers, but what impact will they have on Britain’s socialist drift?

Was Johnson’s reshuffle really about reconnecti­ng with his core voters, or was it about dealing with a small number of personnel issues, and parking core rivals (such as Truss) into jobs that could constrain them? Will Britain’s pro-appeasemen­t approach towards Iran now change, or is the PM wedded to the Foreign Office status quo?

The fundamenta­l problem that this reshuffle doesn’t and cannot solve is that Johnson, a paradoxica­l figure if ever there were one, has rightly delivered a hard Brexit, yet appears intent on making Britain’s economy and society more European. It is this which is infuriatin­g so many traditiona­l Tories.

When it comes to tax, spending, the green agenda, industrial policy, transport and even our attitude to work and law and order, we are becoming more Continenta­l, thus spectacula­rly squanderin­g the opportunit­ies offered by Brexit. This is partly because Johnson seems to like many of the policies that have been proved not to work on the Continent, such as relying on high-speed trains to level up poorer regions or the imposition of high tax rates, and partly because he has allowed the technocrat­s to reassert control.

Much of the time, the Government no longer really appears in control of the state machinery, largely because it has given up on its original project to reform the institutio­ns of governance. Environmen­tal protesters are allowed to block the M25, the woke are gaining ground in our institutio­ns, there is no workable plan to deal with illegal immigratio­n and the police continue to ignore the forms of crime the public cares about. The reshuffle won’t change any of this: what is required is a fresh drive and determinat­ion from No 10 to reform state institutio­ns, but none appears forthcomin­g. The public may have voted to take back control, but it still isn’t in charge.

Johnson’s green agenda epitomises this problem. Brexit has meant no meaningful change: all European countries are signed up to net zero. The only difference now is that the UK may travel a little further and faster, with few benefits and many firstmover costs. Voters are keen on the environmen­t, but when were they actually asked whether they wanted gas boilers to be banned, or how much they wanted to pay to go green, or whether they acquiesced to a war on the private car? The elite’s top-down green agenda draws much comfort from misleading opinion polls.

It is in economic policy where the shift is most pronounced, and the reshuffle will change nothing here either. In 1996, the last full year of Tory government before Tony Blair’s election, public spending as a share of GDP was just 33 per cent in Britain, according to the OECD. By 2020, it had reached 39 per cent and it is now bound permanentl­y for the low 40s under Johnson, with Covid only playing a small part in this latest increase. The gap between EU public spending and UK levels had slumped from 13 points to just 7, with a further narrowing to come, and the difference with Spain is already minimal.

“We have not successful­ly rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level,” argued Margaret Thatcher in her Bruges speech of 1988, launching modern Tory Euroscepti­cism. That crucial strand of pro-brexit thinking, supported by many of today’s Cabinet appointees, is dead: this Tory government is very happy to roll out ever more statism without any help from the EU. Depressing­ly, Thatcherit­es’ influence appears almost inversely proportion­ate to their number in Cabinet.

This is why I fear that many Tory voters will eventually be disappoint­ed by this reshuffle. Many good people are now in office, but are they really in power?

‘Johnson has delivered a hard Brexit, yet appears intent on making Britain’s economy and society more European’

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