Cummings strikes again with a reshuffle

Government

Today, Boris Johnson carried out a much anticipated Cabinet reshuffle. The whole plan was to promote a “new generation” of talent. Behind this, many have speculated that Dominic Cummings may be trying to increase his influence over the Cabinet to achieve his aims.

This was made particularly clear with the resignation stroke dismissal (take your pick) of now-former Chancellor Savid Javid when Johnson/Cummings told him he had to sack all of his advisors as a condition of keeping his role. Although I’m not a personally a fan of Javid, I have some respect for him standing up for his team at the last moment.

His replacement, Rishi Sunak – the MP who covered for Boris Johnson in some of the TV election debate and is from an investment background, takes his place. Sunak is seen amongst numerous Tories as a ‘rising star’; although this could be a disadvantage as expectations are high. He is favoured by Cummings and Johnson, which many have interpreted as a sign of him being a yes person.

And this points to a glaring problem. If the Cabinet is full of yes people, then this results in tunnel-vision which doesn’t allow for reasonable points to be raised from those with reservations. Yes, this may be an attempt from the PM and those around him to give the perception they are getting stuff done; but it only takes a severe misjudgement or wrong move to unravel, opening them to accusations of irresponsibility.

An even bigger issue is the influence of Dominic Cummings, who seems to be carrying out his work unchecked and with no accountability. Which is an interesting coincidence, especially as he was behind a campaign with the core message of taking back control from “unelected bureaucrats”.

This reshuffle also does very little about diversity. There is no LGBT+ representation in the Cabinet still. Women, in general, are in a worse position in this Cabinet than the last. Yes, there is an increase in BAME representation, but this doesn’t go far enough. And under-qualified people like Dominic Raab are still there.

What this tells us about the next few years is a bit unnerving. Not only is the Cabinet full of lackeys, but it’s also struggling with diversity and seems to be a clear indication of Cummings making a power grab.

Reshuffles, moves and scuffles

This Week in UK Politics

Meanwhile, things are carrying on in Stormont as they piece their new power-sharing agreement together. Amongst this are a slew of announcements this weekend. And the Lib Dems have declared their new leader will be revealed in the summer.

Something particularly striking this weekend that will have an impact next week came from Number 10. Effectively, the head of the Policy Unit, Munira Mirza, is to tell senior members of the Cabinet that a reshuffle is pending and the only way for people to remain in it will be to focus on “delivery” of policies over media appearances.

This may present a very early sign about the type of Government Johnson seeks to manage – one where he is very much the central figure and the party stays on message. Possibly an early idea of Cummings’ approach to overhauling the workings of power.

It does mark a departure from Theresa May’s administration where leaks and inaction often appeared to be the order of the day. This can be seen as an attempt to present the Government as united and in control, which may possibly be helping with polling (latest stats below). The Guardian has more on this story.

As UK MEPs were in Brussels for the final time, there were words of regret from many of their former colleagues – some of whom have formed a WhatsApp group. On the UK Government side, there is a hardening of stance, seen from remarks from Chancellor Savid Javid. He has said that there will be no alignment with EU rules after Brexit, which seemingly contradicts the previous approach.

By declaring a lack of alignment, alarm bells were raised in the food/drink and automotive sectors. It also has mired the Government in some controversy as it has been one of the first public acknowledgements from a senior Minister that some industries will not benefit from Brexit. Linked to this was an admission from these industries that prices are likely to rise significantly. The BBC has further coverage.

Perhaps the Government feels empowered now it has a difficult to attain majority to say the things it was not comfortable saying before in a public forum. Or maybe it is a strategy of ‘talking tough’ while pursuing a much safer course of action. This may also challenge conventional wisdom about the Conservatives being the party of business. At the same time, it could just represent Javid’s personal take being off-message – maybe one of the reasons why Johnson is seeking to instil more rigid discipline.

Another sign of Johnson wanting to make his mark is the news that Ministers are considering the possibility of moving the House of Lords to York or Birmingham to “reconnect” with voters. The Conservatives’ chairman, James Cleverly, told Sophy Ridge that it was one of the options being considered. This follows a report in the Sunday Times which claimed a decision could be made in the next few months.

On the face of it, the proposal sounds reasonable. However, Labour MPs like Nadia Whittome called it ‘superficial’. Ultimately, while this removes some of the Parliamentary institutions from London, it does not address the House of Lords itself which remains unelected and lends itself to undue influence from a dominant party in the House of Commons. While the idea itself may not have universal backing, there is a fair amount of talk about de-centralising power in the Labour leadership contest.

As an update from last week’s post, Emily Thornberry managed to secure the last-minute nominations she needed to enter the Labour leadership contest. There have been hustings in Liverpool for both leader and deputy leader. Meanwhile, unions and constituency parties are deliberating on who they should back, to secure passage to the final stage of the vote. So far, polling from YouGov indicates that Keir Starmer is likely to win the vote in the second round, with a comfortable margin against favourite for second place, Rebecca Long-Bailey.

In Northern Ireland, the Government has been criticised for its financial package not being enough to fill the gap in public services. Both First and Deputy First Ministers have united on the attack, putting pressure on the Government to release extra funds. The Conservatives are so-far remaining fixed in their stance, possibly viewing this as not a priority. One would expect this argument to carry on in the background of UK politics as a whole, and the foreground of Northern Irish politics. Given the Government was able to bail out Flybe to some extent this week – despite ruling out that possibility – it is not unreasonable to assume they may give way in spite of their obstinance if it keeps Stormont quiet.

Another development that is likely to ruffle a few feathers is the release of a cross-party report into electoral law and protecting the integrity of British elections. Some of the recommendations include unlimited fines for those who breach electoral law and in response to groups like Cambridge Analytica, a call to restrict the ability to micro-target voters on social media.

This would reflect a change in the law not seen since 2001 – but will people like Dominic Cummings who have benefitted from the existing laws block this from coming into effect? And will this actually help the Electoral Commission to have a much more meaningful role when it has struggled to keep up with a myriad of developments? The Guardian has more.

Something else that is worth a mention is an update on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who are to give up their royal titles, become financially independent and pay back the public purse for the renovation of their UK home in Windsor. While this is a huge development in the Royal Family, what is disheartening is the response to it. People have turned to the realms of conspiracy theories, disrespect and racism.

To those that say the UK does not have a problem with racism, stop kidding yourselves. The UK has a massive problem with racism – we have all seen it but many are uncomfortable to admit it. While so much progress appears to have been made in other areas, this appears to be persistent and needs to be dealt with urgently. It does not have a place in this century, let alone this decade.

Finally, an update on the latest stats. Labour maintained a council seat in Brislington East, Bristol with a marginal dip in vote share (1.1%). The Liberal Democrats saw a double-figure increase. This has been reflected in the State of the Parties page on this site.

After a short break, Westminster voting intention polls are back. The latest Opinium poll sees an increase in Conservative, Brexit Party and Green voting intention, at the expense of Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

It would seem that Boris Johnson is currently experiencing a honeymoon – which is not unexpected. A rare sign of normality in these unprecedented times.