The Cabinet Reshuffle

  • 09 January 2018
  • Posted in: Management & Leadership, Planning & Development, Education, Healthcare

The first day back at Westminster conjured up imagery like something from an episode of Armando Iannucci’s ‘The Thick of It’.

It’s 4 p.m., civil servants at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are meticulously removing anything that associates the name Greg Clarke with the role of Secretary of State for BEIS from the Victoria Street HQ; to be replaced with placards hailing the new head of BEIS, Jeremy Hunt.

Meanwhile, in No. 10 Downing Street, the Health Secretary rebuffs the Prime Ministers attempt to move him from his role spearheading the NHS, opting instead to increase the scope of his portfolio to include further integration of health and social care; keeping Clarke in his role despite the flurry of Westminster briefings that suggested otherwise.

It’s 5 p.m., back at BEIS HQ, word has reached civil servants that Jeremy Hunt won’t be their new boss, and Clarke is on his way back to the office. Already exhausted from the impromptu interior redesigning, they run out to the bins and fetch the signs that specify Greg Clarke is their boss.

Jeremy Hunt is now the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Despite the addition of social care to his job title, the health secretary was already responsible for adult social care, though funding for social care has typically fallen under the remit of the department responsible for local governance. Hunt, soon to be the longest-serving health secretary (surpassing NHS pioneer Nye Bevan) has pledged to deliver the reform to social care that many in the profession have called for; but first, he must navigate the current winter crisis that has gripped the NHS.

On Thursday, 17th May 2018 Open Forum Events will be holding NHS Staff: Skills, Retention and Recruitment at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester city centre. This event looks to develop an actionable strategy for recruiting, retaining and upskilling NHS staff.        

Theresa May’s re-shuffle was intended to signal a rejuvenation of the governments frontbench. Alas, as with most landmarks in her premiership, the gaffes took prominence and conjured the feeling that, as the new year dawns, ‘nothing has changed’.

But some things have indeed changed.

The biggest story to emerge from the reshuffle was that of (former) Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening resigning from government, rather than taking up the role of Secretary of State for Work & Pensions vacated by David Gauke, who is now spearheading the Ministry of Justice.

Greening has cited her ambition to further the causes of social mobility and equality of opportunity for young people as her motivation for declining the DWP position and leaving government, however, it doesn’t take a super-sleuth to deduct that perhaps Greening simply didn’t want to inherit the toxic issue of Universal Credit; the government’s floundering overhaul of the benefits system. Replacing Greening as Secretary of State for Education is Damian Hinds, the relatively low-key MP for East Hampshire.

The new cabinet, though on the surface not as radically different as some expected before the reshuffle, now includes; Claire Perry serving as climate change minister, Caroline Noakes taking up the role of immigration minister, Matt Hancock as culture secretary, Brandon Lewis taking on the remit of Conservative Party chairman and Esther McVey as Secretary of State for the DWP. The percentages paint a picture of a reshuffle that has had minimal impact in the prevalent ideologies in the cabinet. The Telegraph’s data journalist Ashley Kirk put together the numbers that painted the picture of a frontbench that was for all intents and purposes, unchanged; indicating that before the reshuffle 73% of the cabinet were male, after the fact, 74%. The amount of privately educated ministers at the cabinet table rose from 27% to 35%, those representing a South-East constituency went from 43% to 46% and, in the all-important issue of Brexit, remainers, well, remain the most dominant ‘faction’; with 65.2%, a minor fluctuation from 68.2% as a result of Brexiteer Esther McVey’s appointment.

With the cabinet changes taking centre stage in newsrooms across the UK, Toby Young, the recently appointed board member at the new Office for Students, took the opportunity to resign from his post nine days into his tenure with the OfS. In a statement, Young noted that his appointment had ‘become a distraction from its (OfS) vital work of broadening access to higher education and defending academic freedom.”

Young’s role within an organisation tasked with, amongst other things, intervening when the sector is falling short in areas such as equal access, has attracted criticism from a host of people within higher education, politics and the commentariat; with particular attention paid to previous remarks on a spectrum of issues including eugenics, homophobia, working class students in elite institutions (labelling them ‘stains’) and a ‘sophomoric’ fondness for commenting on women’s cleavage on twitter.  

The decision to appoint Toby Young to the role was immediately hailed as an example of ‘cronyism’; putting personal relationships above merit in the process of hiring. Which in itself is ironic, given Young’s father, the Labour peer and sociologist Michael Young, coined the term ‘meritocracy’…  

  • cabinet office
  • government
  • politics