Published:

  • For Government, read Gove-rnment. Dominic Raab is the Deputy Prime Minister de jure; Michael Gove is the Deputy Prime Minister de facto – as his department’s new name and his own new title suggest.  Offically, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will officially cover housing, planning, the Government’s plans for more elected Mayors, localism and local government, finding a solution to cladding, and rough sleeping.  Unofficially, the department’s new title gives Gove opportunities to meddle in Transport (infrastructure), Education (skills) – and just about anywhere else he wants – aided by our former columnist Neil O’Brien. The new Minister for Intergovernmental Relations will also retain oversight of Scotland policy, and take responsibility for the Union as this site has suggested.  As if he wasn’t busy enough, Gove will also become Secretary of State for Culture Wars – with Kemi Badenoch moving to work from his department.  These new powers and scope will do nothing to soothe the conspiracy theorists who believed that he ran the government already.  Boris Johnson clearly believes that the man who let him down in 2016 is the man to deliver his project now. For Government, read Gove-rnment.
  • Where Buckland stroked, will Raab kick? Robert Buckland was reforming by stealth, moving towards restoring the role of the Lord Chancellor to the pre-Blair era, with all that might imply for judicial appointments, tweaking judicial review and warning the judges off meddling in politics.  The karate-loving Raab is likely to kick where Buckland was prone to stroke.  The former has a long record of lambasting the Human Rights Act, which has implications for the UK’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights.  The academy of judicial activitism greeted his appointment with a horrified gasp on Twitter, and the perception of Raab as a weakened Minister will encourage them to defy him.  It is hard to believe that the Prime Minister made the change without grasping the implications.  Dominic Cummings-era clashes with the judges may be back on.
  • Spending Review handbags, sorry, fireworks. It’s claimed that the Prime Minister has deliberately sought to undermine Rishi Sunak by breaking his team up.  We don’t quite read it like it.  Johnson seems to have decided that Jesse Norman wouldn’t make Cabinet, and the former Treasury Minister appears to have walked.  Kemi Badenoch’s main interests lie outside the Treasury, so it made sense to move her.  The Chancellor has kept hold of John Glen, who becomes a Minister of State.  And although it is disorderly to have shipped out Steve Barclay just before a spending review, the timing of the shuffle suits the Treasury even if all the changes might not.  It’s already seeking to bounce the new Secretaries of State by insisting that they stick to the bids that their predecessors had agreed.  Watch for handbags, if not fireworks.
  • Zahawi’s groaning in-box.  Gavin Williamson lost his authority with last year’s exams debacle – and a weakened Education Department has been badly placed to make big strategic decisions.  Zahawi’s in-box will be packed with unfinished business: university funding, the spending review nursery fees.  There are two big strategic issues.  The first is getting back to normal, or something like it, in the wake of Covid: coaxing more universities back to live teaching, driving school-catch up with no Collins settlement, and squaring the challenge of fairness to pupils with restoring the exam standard.  The second is the existential question of what schools are for.  Very crudely, there is the traditional academic model, championed by Nick Gibb during his long service at the department, and a more vocational understanding, pushed by our columnist Robert Halfon.  Zahawi must at the least map out a direction of travel.
  • Johnson’s powers of recovery.  Soon after his appointment as Prime Minister, Johnson was all washed up.  Removing the whip from 21 Conservative MPs had left him even further off a Parliamentary majority. Within a few weeks, he turned it all round, got an election and emerged with a majority of 80.  This pattern of failure to success – and all the way back again – is a feature of the Prime Minister’s career.  Last week, he produced a botched health and social care plan.  This week, he pulled off a brutally authoritative shuffle, for all the questions it left unanswered. (such as how to stop the channel boats).  Reform?  Gove and Zahawi are better placed to deliver it than Jenrick and Williamson.  The succession?  Johnson has muddied the waters by promoting Truss, and got her off the economic lawn: getting to grips with AUKUS, Biden, the French, the Afghanistan fall-out, China and Russia will keep her busy.  Personnel?  Nadine Dorries is in place not to pursue a culture war, but because Johnson thinks his old friend will liven up a dull landscape.  The aspiring Penny Mordaunt will be flying round the world as a Trade Minister.  Nigel Adams is in place to soothe the backbenches.  And Oliver Dowden has the mere bagatelle of delivering a second election win.