Published:

  • Jacob Rees-Mogg shouldered some of the blame for the Owen Paterson vote debacle (fairly enough, by his own admission); Mark Spencer much of the rest of it (less fairly), and his tenure in the post has been marred by claims of unprecedented Ministerial threats (credible) and Nus Ghani’s claims of anti-Muslim prejudice (strongly denied).
  • My sense is that most of the Parliamentary Party wanted a change in one or both positions, and a sense that Boris Johnson will fling the door of 10 Downing Street wide to new talent.
  • Instead, Rees-Mogg moves to the Cabinet Office as, one the one hand, only a Minister of State but, on the other, as full Cabinet member.  His responsibilities are listed as “Brexit opportunities and Government efficiency”.  This is an opportunity for him to find the savings he advocated in Cabinet as a substitute for the National Insurance increase.
  • Spencer is more popular in the Conservative Parliamentary Party than current reporting would suggest but, given the clouds that hang over him, this is a problematic appointment – since that Leader is in the front line over standards and complaints.
  • Chris Heaton-Harris pips Chris Pincher to the post for Chief Whip.  The appointment of the pun-addicted Daventry MP should go down as well in the Parliamentary Party as any promotion reasonably can.  The genial Heaton-Harris is a former Chief Whip in the European Parliament, a graduate of the Westminster Whips’ office, and a resigner twice from Government: from Theresa May’s over her Brexit talks with Jeremy Corbyn, and from Boris Johnson’s to support his neighbour Andrea Leadsom’s leadership bid.
  • Stuart Andrew goes to Housing from his post as Deputy Chief Whip – thus prompting claims that we’re now on the eleventh Housing Minister since 2010, and proving an eternal truth: one is seldom sacked from the Whips’ Office (with good reason).
  • Who’s in charge at the Cabinet Office? Rees-Mogg has gone there; so has Michael Ellis (a reward for his Commons defences of Johnson); so has Heather Wheeler (from the Whips’ Office which took her after her ’22 Chairman bid).  And Steve Barclay and Nigel Adams are still gazetted there.  Does all this anticipate the new Prime Minster’s department?
  • James Cleverly moves to take Heaton-Harris’ Europe job and, as I write, Chris Pincher has just been announced as Deputy Chief Whip.  That leaves a Foreign Office job going. Wendy Moreton has been promoted at Transport, which suggests a gap there.
  • Boris Johnson’s previous shuffles have shown a sensitivity to ethnicity, visible diversity and women.  They have also made a point of demoting or excluding potential rivals.  This mini-change does that last squared.  He has not widened his Government, let alone his circle; brought back, say, Jeremy Hunt, or brought in, for example, Tom Tugendhat.
  • The only way of reading these changes, combined with the appointment of two loyal MPs as Chief of Staff and Head of the Policy Unit, is that the Prime Minister expects a leadership challenge and is circling the wagons.
  • What seemed yesterday to be a reaching-out to his backbenchers, at least potentially, now looks like a withdrawing-in.  He appears no longer to care much for optics or even delivery.  Rather, he is hunkering down for the challenge he suspects will come.