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Reshuffle Kerfuffle – what does it mean for the West Midlands?

Reshuffle Kerfuffle – what does it mean for the West Midlands?

🕔08.Jan 2018

New Year, new Government. Well, kind of.

The political year has restarted (which prompts Chamberlain Files back into life after an extended Christmas lie down) with a Cabinet reshuffle, writes Kevin Johnson. 

“Cautious”, “underwhelming”, “is that it?” are just some of the words used by commentators to describe today’s moving of the deck chairs. But for political anoraks (yes, that’s you dear Files visitor) the reshuffle highlights a few matters of interest, not least for political interests in the region.

We pretty much knew before the No 10 tweets began that the holders of the three big offices of state plus the Brexit Secretary would be going nowhere. We also knew there would be changes in the Conservative party hierarchy. We didn’t quite expect Chis Grayling to last all of 30 minutes before Brandon Lewis was really appointed party chair.

Although, for a transport secretary missing in action last week as fares shot up, perhaps we should have guessed he would be sent on a journey only to hit the buffers and return to depot after a points failure. He stays at Transport.

2018 continues much as 2017 went for the PM’s communications machine.

Earlier this evening, Justine Greening resigned as Education Secretary having fought off a move to the department for work and pensions in a three hour No 10 sit in.

Speculation was that Jeremy Hunt might be appointed de facto deputy PM. He wasn’t budging, holding onto health and getting a departmental rebrand even though he effectively had control of social care already. He takes over writing the Green Paper from the ousted Damian Green.

We suggest he undertakes thorough virus checks before taking over ownership of the former First Secretary’s documents.

Mr Hunt was apparently supposed to be going to Business, where Greg Clark was meant to be spending his last minutes as a Secretary of State. This is the minister who would have been Chancellor had Mrs May not thrown away a Commons majority last June.

As it is, he stays. As the champion of devolution for the last seven years and now implementing an industrial strategy, we’re rather pleased at the Files that Mr Clark lives to fight another day.

Meanwhile, Sajid Javid – Bromsgrove MP and the minister Greg Clark job swapped with in a previous reshuffle – also stays and gets another word inserted into the departmental title. Following something of a theme, DCLG was already responsible for housing. But who needs new policies and funding when you’ve got a rebrand..?

Nuneaton MP and communities minister Marcus Jones was removed from ministerial office to a non-paid party post looking after local government.

Another MP from the Midlands, Karen Bradley, moves to Northern Ireland and is replaced at Culture by Matt Hancock. Some might wonder whether bringing the DUP and Sinn Fein back into a power sharing government will be easier than persuading Channel 4 bosses to relocate to Birmingham.

Today, the mid ranks of Cabinet were moved around – at least the ones who let the PM pretend she’s strong and stable.

But tomorrow, when new Ministers of State are appointed, Mrs May has the opportunity to set the direction of the party ready for the next election when all the greybeards have been moved on. The mid-Government reshuffle is arguably more important for the long term electoral prospects of the Conservatives.

Tonight’s activity concluded with a tweet about the number of women who would now attend Cabinet. It reminded the Files of the time Gordon Brown attempted the same trick – adding to the ranks of ministers who “attend” Cabinet. It didn’t end well.

But, what does all this mean, so far, for our region?

Well, high on the list of issues that concern Mayor Street and Council leader Ward are housing, social care, education/skills, council funding and further devolution to name a few.

Greg Clark – a close ally of Mayor Street – had a close shave today. Will he have the political capital in government to pursue further rounds of devolution as well as the skills and careers measures in the industrial strategy?

Sajid Javid has had the housing strand of his responsibilities highlighted by a colourful marker pen, but will it make any difference to the housing crisis?

Meanwhile, there will be little hope in the region’s local government circles that Mr Javid will resolve the long term funding issues faced by local authorities, including business rate retention.

Justine Greening was, for a Conservative, relatively respected by the teaching profession and appeared to have a genuine commitment to social mobility. There will be concern about what direction Damian Hinds now takes education policy.

Jeremy Hunt has surgically secured a handle on the future of social care, but there will be little optimism that he will make a better fist of one of the biggest challenges in Government than when it was so fantastically bungled in the Tory –  “nothing has changed” manifesto.

The highs at the end of 2017 were undoubtedly winning the bids for the city of culture (Coventry) and Commonwealth Games (Birmingham). Mayor Street had a hand in both, but securing a partial relocation of Channel 4 would be a real feather in his mayoral cap and a more personal victory.

Will the determination of Ms Bradley that Channel 4’s HQ should move be shared by her successor Matt Hancock?

Mrs May is, understandably, trying to carve out a narrative for her administration that goes beyond Brexit. But, that’s almost impossible irrespective of significant domestic policy challenges.

Once the reshuffle kerfuffle dies down, it’s the country’s future relationship with the EU27 that will again come into sharp focus.

Mayor Street has already made clear the importance he places on access to the single market and customs union.

Regardless of who has the red boxes and ministerial cars, that’s the political reshuffle that will define 2018 and Mrs May’s premiership.

This week, Chamberlain Files will be looking across the political spectrum, from the Mayor and WMCA, through Birmingham city council and the local enterprise partnerships, at what 2018 holds in store.

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