When Dominic Cummings announced his intention to revolutionize in the halls of Whitehall at the start of Boris Johnson’s reign, he vowed to eliminate the crooks and slackers, bureaucrats and boring people who had harassed British politics for too long. The new cabinet was to have the greatest minds in parliament, who would be able to unravel the quagmire of Brexit, sweeping legislation and legal turmoil, and even handle something like the pandemic that would soon plunge the system into chaos.
At first, the signs weren’t so good, as Gavin Williamson, Priti Patel and Robert Jenrick strutted down Downing Street to take on their new roles, while the presence of Dominic Raab, Jacob Rees-Mogg or Alok Sharma left little behind. of hope that a new generation of brilliant statesman had climbed that greasy post. Johnson had gone for a yes-men cabinet, and we got a government of the ambitious and the misfits, the original “bizarre and misfits” that Cummings had called for in the first place.
Wednesday’s reshuffle was meant as a signal of intent, though the reason is less clear to those balking at new names at the top. On the contrary, our new government is modeled after Boris Johnson; intended above all to protect his power, while having enough talent to pursue the still vague projects on which he plans to release them.
First, he needed a reshuffle to remove the deadwood that haunted him through two years of crisis-ridden power.
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Gavin Williamson may have landed a seemingly impossible job with the Department of Education, but his fundamental lack of imagination in the face of educational chaos made the vain platitudes issued in response even more flattering.
Dominic Raab, who has avoided being noticed for most of his time as Foreign Secretary, has been deemed unhappy in response to the situation in Kabul, especially after the constant parrot of “Global Britain” and the country’s revitalized international position.
Robert Jenrick was given another Sisyphus job in housing, amid growing complaints about siding reform and planning. Shady revelations of his relationship with Richard Desmond didn’t do him much good, just as Raab’s ill-advised vacation tarnished his image enough that he was fired from Johnson’s court.
What remains is what comes closest to a real Boris Johnson government. It is by no means a cabinet of all talents, nor is it the same gift to scandal-hungry journalists who have gone through lockdowns, extensions and negotiations over the past two years. Johnson is nothing but a power fanatic; this new collection of ministers is not ambitious enough to challenge him anytime soon, nor so much of a responsibility to spark so many accusations of incompetence or sycophancy.
Johnson’s much-vaunted plans for the next decade, shrouded in the blur of ‘leveling up’, require urgent action to become more than sound bites. The recent move on social care may well be financially disastrous and a break on its manifesto promises, but the PM is hoping it looks bold enough to change the reputation of responding to every crisis or last headline the virus gives him. gave. A fervent populist at heart, Boris Johnson has seen his post as Prime Minister shaped by events. Now he thinks he took the opportunity to shape them himself. With such a cabinet, he could even manage it.
Each major reshuffle draws many historical comparisons – The Desperate Night of the Long Knives by Harold Macmillan in 1962 seems tame compared to Johnson’s recent clarifications and Theresa May’s previous ministerial butchery when she came to power. Now, the only similar case seems to be that of 1981, when Margaret Thatcher decided to eliminate most of the “wet” who had opposed her uncompromising fiscal prudence.
Under the wave of sackings, Johnson tries to do the same. He has his eyes riveted on the past, and the stature of Thatcher’s eleven years or his hero Churchill’s ten years stirs his claims to greatness. By removing foreigners like Robert Buckland (sacked from justice) or moving his closest challenger Michael Gove (to housing and local government), Johnson isn’t just cementing his place, he’s paving the way for another term. full.
Allies say he is looking to Tony Blair for inspiration on how to capture the minds of the public where cynics already see him playing his election chips for three years to come. What is inevitably clear are Johnson’s aspirations for the history books. And for that, he needs to solidify his grip.
The appointment of Truss, who has failed to persuade many of the sunny post-Brexit highlands as international trade secretary since 2019, is unlike the Prime Minister. His breakups with the irritatingly popular Chancellor make promoting another contender for the role seem like a weak leader’s crowd pleaser. What Truss plans to do for Britain’s international position is even less clear; relentless optimism and Johnsonian bravado are simply misled in a world where Britain’s influence is fading so quickly.
Boris Johnson may have gotten rid of the “soft non-entities” (the words of a former cabinet minister) whom he has offered protection for too long. His deputies hope his rhetoric will eventually be offset by his government’s actions, even if his electoral tricks continue to upset them. There is no doubt that some see it as a courageous exercise of authority to reshape his post as Prime Minister away from the turbulent early years.
Yet with Johnson we can’t be so sure. Populist to the end, he knows that his government will be judged as much on its promises and judgments as on its personality. And far too often, personality has been the only thing our Prime Minister has had to come up with. It remains to be seen whether the government will be more competent as a result. What is certain is the face of the man who will continue to lead this sad spectacle at the top.