Cabinet Office logo

This week appears to be the time for another mid-term Cabinet reshuffle, as the Government promotes and demotes, switches and, er, ditches, Ministers for a variety of reasons. But, as with many staples of the strange political system we have in Britain (the government getting to call the date of the election and half the weirdness that goes on in the Commons spring to mind), it seems to go on without any wider questioning.

There are, of course, many legitimate reasons to move or replace Cabinet Ministers. Chief among them are of course resignations or deaths of ministers, MPs losing elections, or even under-performing ministers. But the mid-term Cabinet reshuffle is almost expected (it hasn’t even been a year since the last one) – it’s like a football team being expected to be active at every transfer window. But unlike playing football, I’d like to think running the country is more complex and requires a greater skill-set.

In the last Labour Government, for example, John Reid had, in the space of 9 years, been Transport Secretary, Leader of the Commons, Secretary of State for Scotland, for Northern Ireland, Defence Secretary, Health Secretary and Home Secretary. There were six different Home Secretary’s during the 13 years of Labour. Moving ministers around to different portfolios seems to suggest one of two things – either ministers are supremely talented people, able to turn their hand at anything from healthcare to defence – or that they are supremely untalented people who can be shifted anywhere with no real consequence as its the civil servants, political advisers and so forth who do the real work.

The truth is probably somewhere in between, but what it really indicates is that mid-term Cabinet reshuffles are almost always superficial and cynical exercises held by governments (and the opposition, it must be added) to boost their ratings and give a false sign that new and exciting things are happening. Much of the time, ministers in the most “important” positions remain unchanged – Chancellors and Deputy Prime Ministers are usually particularly safe in their role, Foreign Secretaries slightly less so. The fact that it is usually less “important” ministers that are moved gives more weight to the accusation that nothing of any real consequence is happening.

David Cameron’s latest ploy appears to be to increase the number of women in the Cabinet (current Dave to women ratio following Chloe Smith’s resignation is 4:4) in an effort to trick women into thinking he cares with less than two years left before the election. But why now? Why weren’t there more women in Cabinet from the start? It’s all about polls.

And so one wonders – why do you find so little questioning of the validity of this pointless and superficial exercise? Why should the government (and again, the opposition) be able to get away with generating plenty of news coverage without any real scrutiny of just what they are doing (or rather, that they are barely doing anything)? Once again, there are good reasons to move Cabinet Ministers around into new positions. Certainly, new ministers may indicate a change of policy. Ultimately though, they are rarely more than a figurehead for something that was happening for other reasons anyway. It is hard to think of times when there could be a non-cynical reason that requires four, five, six or seven ministers to trade jobs. So instead of talking about what different appointments say about the current government , how about we talk about what going about this whole process says about this government, or any other in the same position?

Advertisements