The coverage of last week’s reshuffle and its aftermath has been dominated, quite understandably, by the dramatic departure of Sajid Javid from the Government.
Yet whilst this development, and the questions raised about what motivates it and what it signifies about the Prime Minister’s attitude towards power and government, there is a danger of it casting a shadow over our understanding of the reshuffle as a whole.
In fact the Prime Minister has offered much greater continuity than one might assume from a casual glance at the headlines. As the Institute for Government points out:
“Much of the cabinet already has experience of sitting around the table. Only three full members – Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Amanda Milling and George Eustice – and Suella Braverman, the new attorney general who attends cabinet, have not been around the table before.”
The other side of this coin is that the list of departures is also relatively short. When it comes to Secretaries of State it comprises Andrea Leadsom, Nicky Morgan, Julian Smith, and Theresa Villiers. Geoffrey Cox, who as Attorney General attended Cabinet, rounds out the ‘big beasts’, such as they are.
We find the same thing at the lower level. As we noted in our final round-up of the reshuffle, Boris Johnson has avoided the temptation to reshuffle the Whips’ Office. This is a welcome change in approach towards as institution whose efficacy has been undermined in recent years by his predecessors’ penchant for cycling MPs in and out of it too rapidly.
Several veteran ministers have also been left in place. Our editor noted last week the increasingly extraordinary tenure of Nick Gibb as Schools Minister, and the scope of what this veterancy has allowed him to achieve. But alongside him we might group Greg Hands, who remains at International Trade (and has written for us on the subject many times); John Glen, who still holds the post of Economic Secretary to the Treasury he first took up in January 2018; and John Whittingdale, who has rejoined the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport where he previously served as Secretary of State.
None of this is to diminish the importance of the changes that did occur, and not just at Number 11. Esther McVey’s departure has rightly put the spotlight on the extraordinary turnover of Housing Ministers since the Conservatives first took office in 2010, and replacing Cox with Suella Braverman sends an important signal about the Government’s intentions regarding the constitutional role of the courts, which she recently wrote about on this site.
But a reshuffle may contain multitudes, and the case for taking a continuity view of this one is stronger than it initially appears.