HAVING been involved in many Cabinet and Ministerial reshuffles over the years, I steadily grew used to their often bizarre and generally nail-biting nature.
Over the years it’s always struck me how unique a way it is of getting a job. You’ve no idea which one you’re applying for, instead one is allocated to you.
You’ve no idea which one you’ll get. If you already have a role, keeping it is based on not only on performance, but patronage by the Prime Minister and party management issues.
For me the most memorable reshuffle was in July 2016 when I become Education Secretary. I sat with my team in the Department for International Development, waiting for a call to go to Number 10 Downing Street.
Watching the TV and from WhatsApp messages, I saw other roles go to different colleagues. But not the one I’d always privately wanted – at the Department for Education.
When the call finally came, I remember wondering what my father, who died in 2010 just months before I became a Cabinet minister, would have thought if he’d seen me then, waiting in an upstairs office in Downing Street to find out what role in the Cabinet I’d get.
As I was finally called to the Cabinet Room, I reflected how utterly mad it was that I would, within minutes, get a new role which would fundamentally shape and drive my life for at least the next several years ahead.
It turned out to be education after all. At last. I walked into the Whitehall department that I’d long dreamt of running. The whole departmental civil service team was there to greet me, starting with the Permanent Secretary, Jonathan Slater.
He took me up to meet my new Private Office team and within a couple of hours I’d held my first all staff meeting to set out what I felt we should be focusing on, and to try to give people a sense of where my priorities were on education, social mobility and opportunity.
Of course, for a Prime Minister, their perspective on a reshuffle is somewhat different. For Boris Johnson it was a chance to get the right people in the right place and with his 80-seat majority to show who’s boss, as our outgoing Chancellor discovered.
But in replacing Sajid Javid with Richmond’s Rishi Sunak, Bromsgrove’s loss is Yorkshire’s gain. As the junior Ministerial ranks are steadily filled, the infusion of fresh talent and fresh perspective will be vital if Boris Johnson is to deliver on his promise of a ‘levelled up’ Britain.
Those Northern ‘Red Wall’ MPs, representing the seats Johnson successfully reached out to, now must ensure the Government they are part of actually gets to grips with the very real complexities and challenges of ‘levelling up’. They have to show they are up to the challenge.
This week’s reshuffle was the first of two immediate steps that Boris Johnson will take to lead a Government that delivers. Reshuffles are about the personalities, but there’s policy too.
Next month, Mr Johnson’s new Chancellor will deliver his first Budget. We’ve already seen a raft of spending announcements, not least on transport and buses – perhaps the 142 Rotherham to Greasbrough service can finally now be improved.
But like the reshuffle this week, the March Budget will be the next big indicator of what Boris Johnson means when he talks about his intention of leading a government that will level up Britain. It’s got to be much more than just traditional tax and spend policies; it should be about fixing the out-dated system that means even the opportunities we already create as a country aren’t ones that everyone has a fair shot at.
For Mr Johnson’s government, there’s a lot of hard work that lies ahead. In the end reshuffles come and go, and so do the Ministers. But those new Secretaries of State from this week’s reshuffle must now get on with running their departments.
My advice to incoming Secretaries of State is to be fair to your civil servants, take stock of what the department already has underway, get people clear on your priorities – and that includes your Ministerial team as well as the rest of the department.
Stop unnecessary work on areas that aren’t priorities, and in the initial briefings from officials, be very clear you want complete honesty on problems, no glossing over them. Minimise the surprises down the track.
This weekend, while you’re reading The Yorkshire Post, a smart new Secretary of State and Ministerial team will be spending their weekend in their new department, hitting the ground running and getting rapidly on top of their brief with the help of their civil servants.
There’s no time to lose. The manoeuvring and shenanigans of the reshuffle are over.
The people are in place. It’s time for them to get on with the job and deliver on the promise of a general election to level up Britain. No pressure.
Justine Greening is a Tory politician and former Cabinet minister who served as Education Secretary.