Jim Pickard of the Financial Times tweeted yesterday about the correlation between those who lost out from the Cabinet reshuffle, and those who occupy the bottom places in our League Table.
There was one exception: Robert Buckland, who came in eighth last month. Our panel of Party members was thereby acknowledging his diligence, affability and thoughtful commitment to judicial reform.
Buckland has gone for no other reason than to make room for Dominic Raab. The new Lord Chancellor has combative views about the flaws of the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act.
He is less likely than his predecessor to trap flies with honey rather than vinegar, and there is potential in his appointment for a more turbulent Government relationship with the judiciary.
It’s also unclear whether Raab can make anything of his new post of Deputy Prime Minister, seemingly wrung out of Boris Johnson as the caravan of his reshuffle hit a bump in the road
It rolled on smoothly enough otherwise, which takes us back to where we started – with our League Table. Pleased though we are with the attention given to it, we don’t believe for a moment that our members’ panel decides the fate of Ministers.
Rather, the performance of Ministers shows up, by and large, in where the members place them. At any rate, the Government’s spin on the shuffle this morning is that the new Cabinet is stronger than the old one, and so better placed to build back better and level up Britain.
This is true as far as it goes. Michael Gove is a more formidable politician than Robert Jenrick; Nadhim Zahawi a more capable executive than Gavin Williamson, Oliver Dowden a more experienced manager than Amanda Milling.
But the point of the reshuffle is not only, or even primarily, to bring a sharper cutting edge to reform. It is to tighten the grip of Johnson’s chunky fist on power, now that he has decided a shuffle can no longer be postponed.
For those promoted are either Johnson loyalists, like Nadine Dorries and Anne-Marie Trevelyan; sent sideways to do a specific job, like Oliver Dowden or Steve Barclay, or placed where they won’t be a threat to the Prime Minister’s leadership.
The exception is Liz Truss, who as an occupant of one of the four top jobs is now a potential Party leader, if she wasn’t before. But the new Foreign Secretary will be removed from the economic arena and plunged into the diplomatic one.
With the American relationship to repair, China and Russia to get to grips with, overseas development to master, and the EU to engage with insofar as David Frost will let her, Truss will have her work cut out.
She therefore looks less like a rival to the present Tory leader than to the heir apparent, Rishi Sunak. We smell a distinct whiff of divide and rule.
The shuffle is significant for what it doesn’t do as well as what it does. Priti Patel has been left at the Home Office to grapple with the channel boats.
And George Eustice, seen by some greenish Tories as too close to the farming lobby, stays at the Environment. That pours a bucket of cold water over claims of a “Carrie shuffle”.
As Andrew Gimson writes today in his profile of Gove on this site, the new Housing Secretary has once again been denied promotion to a great office of state: always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
All the same, Gove is dressed up to the nines: planning, housing, devolution, localism, levelling up – he flaunts the lot. The new Housing Secretary is a fearsome Whitehall operator, and will be all over much of the government, just as before.
It is good news that he is to keep oversight of Scotland, not because his take on it is always right (whose is?), but because few MPs who don’t sit for a Scottish seat understand it.
Furthermore, answers to the Scottish question – how can it be made to feel more at home in the United Kingdom? – are bound up with the English one. Engand is the neglected piece of the constitutional jigsaw, and all Gove’s ingenuity will be required to piece it all together.
All in all, Johnson’s appointments obey the classic laws of reshuffles. Don’t sack fewer than three people, or you will be labelled weak. Don’t fire more than five, or you’ll be said to have panicked.
Send to the backbenches those unlikely to make trouble: Buckland and Robert Jenrick fit that mould, though Gavin Williamson may not. Either hug your enemies close or else don’t let them through the door.
Jeremy Hunt, the Prime Minister’s former leadership rival, Greg Clark, Mel Stride, Tom Tugendhat, Tobias Ellwood and the rest of the trade union of Tory Select Committee Chairs aren’t exactly enemies.
But there is no room in Cabinet for any of them, or for former senior Ministers elsewhere. Perhaps we under-estimate the scale of the challenges. Zahawi will have his work cut out at education just to steady the exams ship.
Dorries at Culture, grappling with the BBC and woke, ain’t going to be dull. Trevelyan’s transition to trade should be less dramatic, and she has every chance to make just as favourable an impression on Party members as Truss has done.
And that a rising star like Dowden has become the junior Party Chairman – for it’s Ben Elliot who chairs the Board, or at least has done so to date – shows that the state of CCHQ campaigning-wise is a real worry in Number Ten.
The rest of the shuffle should be mostly settled by the end of the day. Truss and Kemi Badenoch continue their equalities show, with the latter moving to the Housing Department (so Gove will have his fingers in that pie, too).
Nigel Adams, another loyalist, looks set to have a co-ordinating role with the backbenches. Kit Malthouse, a former Johnson Deputy Mayor in London, will have the right to attend Cabinet, as will Michelle Donelan.
More women round the table, a higher ethnic minority count with Zahawi in place, a Red Waller in Simon Clarke…the Prime Minister has ticked off all the boxes, working with Mark Spencer, who remains Chief Whip.
Johnson once said that his favourite film scene is “the multiple retribution killings at the end of The Godfather“. That was a bit tongue in cheek. Sasha Swire got nearer the heart of his character in her diary.
He is an “alley cat”, she wrote, but one with “greatness of soul, generosity of spirit and lack of pettiness…a rare quality in politics”. All the same, his priority has always that of most of the rest of us – that’s to say, looking after number one.
The Prime Minister has been known to quote from Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim when turning his mind to personnel. “He looked more than ever like Genghis Khan meditating a purge of his captains”.
The tribe is grumbling about the Great Khan and it’s not clear where he’s leading them. But he’s in control and getting what he wants – when it comes to his team anyway. He has meditated on the purge and is utilising the axe.