Equality’s Loss is the Chancellor’s Gain: Debunking the Reshuffle

The promotions may have gone to Javid, Morgan and Leadsom, but the Chancellor was the real winner in yesterday's reshuffle.

Much of the commentary on yesterday’s reshuffle centred on the role of women in Government. The departure of Maria Miller and her replacement by Sajid Javid as Culture Secretary not only meant that the number of government departments headed by women declined (from four to three), but the appointment of Nicky Morgan to handle Miller’s responsibilities as Minister for Women and Equality also means that brief now sits outside Cabinet. (Although Morgan will be able to attend Cabinet meetings, she is not a full Cabinet Minister).  Overall, the total number of women serving as ministers remains the same.

However, whilst the reshuffle could be seen as bad news for women, it was good news for another group whose political fortunes have been in decline in recent years: City types. All three of the ministers promoted worked in the financial services sector before entering Parliament. Cabinet new boy Sajid Javid was previously the youngest ever Vice-President at Chase Manhattan Bank, Andrea Leadsom enjoyed a very successful 25 year career in the City that included spells with Barclays, BZW and Invesco Perpetual, while Nicky Morgan was a corporate lawyer specialising in mergers and acquisitions. Finally, seven years after the financial crisis ravaged the UK economy, bankers, brokers and lawyers are back in the ascendant.

The promotions may have gone to Javid, Morgan and Leadsom, but Chancellor George Osborne was the real winner in yesterday’s limited reshuffle. For the third reshuffle in a row, the Friends of George (FOGs) have been conspicuous in their elevation. The Treasury team saw the biggest number of personnel changes, and the appointment of Sajid Javid – who has spent all of his admittedly brief ministerial career as part of Osborne’s team – as Culture Secretary means that the Chancellor now has yet another ally sat around the Cabinet table. As an added bonus, Nicky Morgan’s expanded portfolio will also see her attending Cabinet and the vacancy created in HMT’s junior ranks meant that long-time Osborne supporter Andrea Leadsom was finally rewarded with a ministerial post.

The reshuffle’s losers are pretty obvious: Maria Miller and the Prime Minister.

Sniping against Maria Miller from within Conservative ranks had been a relatively constant theme of her tenure at DCMS. With ministerial posts for Tories at a premium due to the constraints of Coalition, there were always going to be fellow Conservative MPs willing to brief against frontbench colleagues who were perceived to not be up to their jobs, especially if they were thought to have been promoted for reasons other than merit. Many commentators were anticipating that Miller would have been dumped from the Cabinet or demoted in the reshuffle that was widely expected to take place in the summer following the local elections. The furore over her expenses simply gave Miller’s critics more ammunition and accelerated her departure.

The Prime Minister emerges from this whole debacle with his reputation dented. Not only does his recent full-throated support for Maria Miller now look ill-judged, but his handling of the reshuffle lacked finesse. For a PM often accused of having a ‘problem’ with women, the seeming demotion of the post of Minister for Women and Equalities from Cabinet status looks particularly poorly conceived. Surely one of the other women in Cabinet could have picked up this portfolio? The roles of International Development Secretary (held by Justine Greening) and Northern Ireland Secretary (currently Theresa Villiers) are no more demanding than that of Culture Secretary so could easily have been combined with the equalities brief. If a wider reshuffle is still enacted later in the year, the Prime Minister will have to display much greater skill in ensuring his appointments not only put the right people into the right jobs but also send the right messages to the wider public. Certainly he will be under renewed pressure to ensure that more posts go to his female MPs.

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