The Government yesterday held a small reshuffle, finally getting round to filling a number of ministerial vacancies created by a spate of Brexit-related resignations. In a sign of the times, some coveted spots had been left empty for over three weeks, with Sarah Newton resigning from the Department for Work and Pensions on 13 March and only being replaced by Justin Tomlinson yesterday. Government dysfunction has become so dire that some crucial governmental duties are being ignored, with Brexit stealing all attention and Government capacity. Even after the latest round of appointments, Alistair Burt’s vacated role at the Foreign Office is yet to be filled.
So what else do the new junior ministers tell us about the state of Government? For one thing, they are almost all Theresa May loyalists. Most interestingly, her former Parliamentary Private Secretary Seema Kennedy has begun the lumber up the greasy pole at the Department for Health and Social Care. Erstwhile May defender James Cleverly has also been handed the poisoned chalice of a spot at DExEU, which has burned through ten other secretaries of state, ministers, and permanent secretaries in the few short years it has existed. By one interpretation, May knows she doesn’t have long left, and is taking a final opportunity to give a leg up to some allies. By another, she has endured so many resignations, public criticisms, and votes against her that she really does have a limited pool of candidates to promote to government.
Reshuffles are usually a way of giving an administration the reset. It can reward allies, quieten rivals, and indicate a shift in the direction of theGovernment’s priorities. In reality, this reshuffle is redolent of the lasts gasps of an ailing administration. The Prime Minister has already made clear she won’t lead the country into the next round of Brexit negotiations, the informal leadership election is well underway, and any successor will want to secure a proper majority. For all we know, a general election could be called before any of these new junior ministers have had time to get their feet under the table.