The second time Prime Minister Boris Johnson has undertaken a major reshuffle of his cabinet after taking over from Theresa May back in July 2019, Wednesday’s reworking of the Conservative cabinet comes in the midst of major criticism within the party against Johnson’s leadership. With fellow Tories unhappy with his handling of Afghanistan and large swathes of Conservative MPs refusing to back his proposed cut to universal credit and proposed increase to national insurance, it is possible that the Prime Minister has felt the ground shaking beneath him.
It is potentially this that led to such significant alterations in his cabinet. Whitehall sources claim that the various shifts in position were intended to indicate to Johnson’s party that his position is a strong one, and that theirs can be changed in moments. Significant changes include:
One of the new additions to his cabinet, Dorries has been appointed Culture Secretary, taking over from Oliver Dowden. The appointment is a controversial one. Outwith the instance when the Conservative whip was suspended from her after she took part in I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, Dorries is seen by many in the cultural sector to be an antagonistic figure, once infamously tweeting "Left wing snowflakes are killing comedy, tearing down historic statues, removing books from universities, dumbing down panto, removing Christ from Christmas and suppressing free speech." Her distaste for gay marriage and unclear stance on the privatisation of Channel 4 does not inspire much faith in the creative sector.
The former Education Secretary was sacked and sent to the backbench. Known for refusing to extend free school meals and his poor handling of education during the Covid crisis, Williamson was the least popular member of the cabinet amongst Conservative Party members and his removal from office is unlikely to have been a major surprise, despite some believing he could function as a significant threat to Boris Johnson on the backbench.
Demoted from Foreign Secretary to Justice, Raab appears to have taken the fall for the handling of the Afghanistan situation, during which he refused to cut short a holiday whilst the crisis was occurring. Raab took over from Johnson during the former's stint in the hospital last year, and is perceived to be a solid ally for the Prime Minister, with his role as Deputy Prime Minister surviving the demotion.
Truss was an influential figure in a number of post-brexit trade deals. She supported Johnson’s leadership bid in 2019, a decision that put her in good standing for promotion. Taking over Raab’s position of Foreign Secretary is a position with no small amount of heft, especially for someone known to rant about British apples for British people.
Overall, there were four outright sackings, one significant demotion, and three promotions during the reshuffle, with 13 positions entirely conserved.
Demographically speaking, the new roster holds few surprises, with just over a quarter of the cabinet being women (compared to 51% of the UK population) and 63% having been educated in private schools (compared to 7% of the UK population).
SNP MPs have suggested that the reshuffle served the purpose of distracting from the unpopular planned £20 cut to universal credit, rolling back the pandemic-incited increase.
Regardless, this has been a significant shift in the Westminster scene; whether the changes will strengthen Johnson’s position or lay the foundations for his replacement, remains to be seen.