07 Feb 2023

Political Insider: The Not So Mini Reshuffle

As Rishi Sunak restructures Whitehall, MHP Public Affairs Director Mario Creatura – former Digital Special Adviser in Number 10 – offers his analysis of what the Prime Minister is seeking to achieve.

Mario Creatura
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In many ways, Rishi Sunak’s well-trailed ‘mini-reshuffle’ today was not so mini at all.

With a vacant Party Chairman position caused by the departure of Nadhim Zahawi, many commentators had thought a simple promotion from the junior ministerial ranks, with in-filling from the backbenches, was the most likely scenario. Sunak has instead confounded those expectations by taking the undeniably radical decision to shake-up the organisation of a large chunk of his government.

The gargantuan Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is no more and International Trade has been subsumed into three more tightly defined areas:

  • The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero – has been tasked with securing the UK’s long-term energy supply, bringing down bills and halving inflation
  • The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology – ordered to drive the innovation that will deliver improved public services, create new and better-paid jobs and grow the economy
  • Department for Business and Trade – given a mission to support growth by backing British business at home and abroad, promoting investment and championing free trade

The only outlier in this is the tweaked Department for Culture, Media and Sport which loses ‘Digital’, re-focusing it on the soft power that Britain has historically fared so well in.

There is a clear strategic imperative informing these changes – the political gorge Sunak needs to traverse over the next 18 months is firmly directing today’s announcement. His team believe that if the Prime Minister is able to deliver on his five key pledges (to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists and stop the boats) then maybe, just maybe, he will be able to deliver a Conservative victory at the next General Election.

Having Departments clearly defined along those objectives, and strong Cabinet Ministers able to deliver both the messages to the masses and wield an often-unwieldy bureaucracy will be key to that success:

Grant Shapps
Secretary of State at the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero

Shapps has a well-founded reputation as a solid media performer. He was most recently entrusted with Sunday’s political media round to defend a smorgasbord of challenging headlines for the Conservatives: not least Liz Truss’s 4,000-word Telegraph essay on her time as Prime Minister. This is not a skill to be under-rated, good communicators in the Cabinet will deliver electoral success for Sunak just as much as good departmental management.

Michelle Donelan
Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology

Donelan has impressed in DCMS and is another oft-deployed media performer. Her calm and clear defence of government lines has made her invaluable over recent months, but it’s the steady management of the Online Safety Bill that has shown her to be a true asset to Cabinet. Toughening up some areas after fears it was too weak on sanctions, but appeasing those concerned about freedom of speech implications by removing ‘legal but harmful’ provision shows a deftness at avoiding political headaches – an essential skill for the Prime Minister to have in his camp.

Kemi Badenoch
Secretary of State for Business and Trade

At a time when politicians are often attacked for being unclear or duplicitous, Badenoch has built a firm following as a straightshooter. She suffers no fools gladly, with performances at the Despatch Box that often disrupt pre-conceived ideas about what it means to be a Conservative in modern Britain. A Leave supporter, her background in engineering and passion for brand Britain make her an obvious choice for a department in need of a firm hand as Sunak seeks to turbo-charge the UK’s role on the post-Brexit world stage.

Lucy Frazer
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Frazer is a new entry into the Cabinet, but has held an impressive roster of Ministerial positions since being elected to Parliament in 2017. Frazer has had 9 briefs in government ranging from the Treasury, Justice and most recently a spell as Housing Minister. Another strong media performer, her calm delivery and attention to detail has made her a vital ally to three successive Prime Ministers.

Greg Hands
new Conservative Party Chairman

Hands is undeniably popular with the Parliamentary party and the wider grassroots membership. He is calm, effective, and relentlessly hard-working. With wide-ranging Ministerial and business experience, he is not one to court controversy. The challenging psephology of his London-based constituency makes him a veteran campaigner, experience that will serve him well as he builds Sunak’s election machine – reassuring his Red and Blue Wall colleagues alike.

As ever, MHP Group will be monitoring these new departments and their refreshed Secretaries of State. Expect eye-catching headlines over the coming months, an increased frequency of set piece speeches and a ramping up of proactive engagement to head off crises on the horizon.

The main message from Sunak’s ‘mini’ reshuffle: he’s not going down without a fight.

 

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