News & Insights  |  Posted February 8, 2023

Briefly: The Rishuffle

On 7 February, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a minor government reshuffle that created four new government departments and appointing four new Secretaries of State in the process. We have summarised a client note (below) that we sent out following PM Sunak’s reshuffle announcement earlier that day

PM Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle was not widely anticipated, is not expected to meaningfully consolidate PM Sunak’s power, and comes as the Conservatives sit 23 points behind the Labour party in the polls, according to Politico’s poll of polls (here).

The Conservative Party’s MPs are already deeply divided (our breakdown of the Conservative party’s factions is here), meaning passing primary legislation i.e. bills that require voting majorities, through Parliament remains very difficult – and this mini-Government restructure could make the Prime Minister’s agenda even harder to deliver. 

The creation of new government departments is notoriously time and power-consuming, often leading to a gumming up of the works of the civil service as senior civil servants set up new departments and junior civil servants left feeling displaced and demoralised. Sunak’s delivery agenda could be even more exposed to this risk given relations with Whitehall’s civil servants are reportedly already quite fractious. 

Politically, Sunak has promoted two MPs that ran against him to be leader of the Conservative party (Grant Shapps and Kemi Badenoch), one MP who supported Boris Johnson, Penny Mordaunt, and then Liz Truss for party leader before eventually backing him (Michelle Donelan) and two Sunak supporters (Lucy Frazer and Greg Hands). 

These appointments, along with firebrand Red Wall MP and former Labour councillor, Lee Anderson MP, as deputy Party Chair, will likely help PM Sunak maintain a fragile peace in the Conservative party. However, they are unlikely to make it easier for him to chalk up big electoral victories ahead of the next election. Shapps and Badenoch, as political organisers and rallying points, represent different wings of the Conservative party, each with their own policy bugbears. They will now be busy setting up new departments, which may help PM Sunak operationally move his agenda forward. However, many of Sunak’s political opponents on the Conservative backbenches will notice that most junior ministerial appointments were just ministers moving their pre-reshuffle portfolio to a new department, rather than the usual granting of political favour to ambitious or troublesome backbenchers. Coupled with Anderson’s appointment (they say resignations in the first 3 months are the PM’s mistake, after that it’s usually the minister’s fault) and it will likely continue to be a rocky road for PM Sunak’s legislative priorities.

 Other Key Takeaways from Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle

  • PM Sunak did not sack any members of his Cabinet but expanded responsibilities for former leadership opponents (Shapps and Badenoch), asking them to set up new departments, a time-consuming and sometimes politically fraught task 
  • All new Secretaries of State represent constituencies are in the South of England 
  • PM Sunak’s inner circle seems able to keep a secret, with news of the reshuffle only surfacing overnight 
  • Media have reported that PM Sunak’s first choice for the new Secretary of State for Science, Technology, and Innovation was current Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove, who preferred to remain in his role at DLUCH 
  • PM Sunak did not sack Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Justice, amid ongoing investigations into allegations of bullying his staff. 

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Rishi Sunak's reshuffle