We’re in a new month and new rumours about a reshuffle emerge – but this time they appear to be credible. A Cabinet reshuffle has long been touted for the Summer, with ‘feminist’ Boris Johnson believed to be wanting more women at the top table, and valuing an opportunity to reward Ministers and MPs who have performed effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic. For many politicos, this is what we live and breathe but for businesses, do reshuffles matter?
At Cicero/amo, we say yes. The impending reshuffle is likely to be a first step towards getting a Cabinet in place ready to fight the next election, rather than a definitive shake-up, with new, fresh, talented MPs such as Laura Trott and Claire Coutinho tipped for promotion to junior Ministerial roles.
While unlikely to be earth-shattering at Cabinet level, there is greater movement at a more junior level. Ministers tipped for promotion include Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, Treasury Minister and Equalities Spokesperson Kemi Badenoch and Solicitor General Lucy Frazer.
So why does it matter? It is after all the reshuffled Government that will be attempting to reset the agenda for the economy and British politics post-pandemic, and to keep the Conservative Party back on the front foot in the political debate. An upcoming reshuffle is the first real sign of the Prime Minister’s intentions with his Government and its agenda. His first swathe of appointments following his 2019 election win were an attempt to reunite the Conservative Party in the Brexit aftermath, and ever since he has been held in thrall by the pandemic and the restrictions it has placed on taking more drastic decisions.
Though movement at the top might be muted, the rumour mill is still ticking along. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is most directly in the firing line, though he has hinted that he won’t go quietly. Priti Patel could be moved, and Sajid Javid has been tipped for a return to Cabinet now Dominic Cummings has left. Liz Truss, Trade Secretary, has impressed in the role and is popular with the Conservative grassroots.
With the next reshuffle being conducted with one eye on the next election (whenever that may be), businesses should start thinking about who the runners and riders may be. Ambitious Ministers and backbenchers will be quietly lobbying for new roles already, and the winners this time (provided they avoid any mishaps) are likely to be those whose stars will keep rising under Boris Johnson. Engaging early, in a targeted way, can only be a good thing.
Increasingly, the locus of power inside the Conservative Party is spread further than the Cabinet – and it’s also important to keep a keen eye on the aftermath of May’s local elections.
The likes of Andy Street, West Midlands Mayor, and Ben Houchen, Tees Valley Mayor, are rising stars and a second victory in their regions has further entrenched their positions as senior Conservatives – with the capacity to put pressure on national politicians. Houchen’s efforts in campaigning on behalf of Tees Valley were instrumental in securing a Teesside freeport and the location of a new Treasury campus in Darlington. With the Conservative Party set on delivering its ‘Levelling Up agenda,’ ambitious regional politicians are likely to command real sway within the Party.
The recent local elections have only served to entrench this, with both Street and Houchen cementing their positions and riding high on their own personal brands. A good mid-term result for the Conservatives gives the Prime Minister more leeway and tightens his power over the Party. With one eye on the next election, Boris Johnson may have more scope to shape the Government according to his own preferences, rather than in hoc or factional turf wars.
The next reshuffle may not be a shake-up ‘for the ages’ but it will certainly be one ‘for the future,’ and it is worth seeing moves at junior level as a first step in building a Cabinet to take the Conservative Party into the next election.
Who will you be keeping an eye on?
This summer, Cicero/amo will be examining the rising stars in the Conservative Party, who you should be keeping an eye on, and what the Government might look like in the next five-to-ten years. Please do get in touch if you would be interested in finding out more about this project.
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