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Good morning. Rishi Sunak has conducted a mini-reshuffle of his cabinet, using the departure of Ben Wallace to promote loyalists. Some thoughts on his moves and what they mean in today’s note.
All that is Wallace melts into Claire
Rishi Sunak has brought Grant Shapps, one of the Conservative government’s great survivors, into the Ministry of Defence, to replace Ben Wallace, who will stand down at the next election. It is Shapps’ fifth cabinet job in the past year. Shapps’ appointment fills a gap that, as I said in our podcast last week, Sunak was badly missing:
“[He needs] someone who is basically just willing to say anything, to shred their own reputation by saying things that you yourself as prime minister don’t want to aerate. So for me it feels like it’s a job which should go to a loyal ally who doesn’t get scared in the face of difficult headlines. So one of the people who was very much in the trenches with him in that first leadership election when it was not in their interest to do so.”
And if you ignore the first thing I said after that — this was an excellent reason to appoint John Glen, the chief secretary to the Treasury, to the role — then that was almost prophetic!
Equally importantly, Shapps is a competent minister who is not going to fall out with Sunak over defence spending or procurement, but who isn’t going to blunder into a sackable offence either.
Stepping into Shapps’ vacant job at the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and securing a meteoric promotion is Claire Coutinho, Sunak’s former special adviser before her election to parliament in 2019. (Do read this excellent mini-profile by Lucy Fisher and Anna Gross.)
There’s a pleasing symmetry to the fact that her opposite number in the opposition is Ed Miliband, who was appointed to the Energy and Climate Change post by Gordon Brown, to whom Miliband had been a loyal special adviser. As Katy Balls explains in today’s Times, it’s a reflection of how tricky the politics of this are for Sunak.
Coutinho, 38, was a prominent member of the Conservative Environment Network prior to entering government and gave her maiden speech on the environment and renewables, describing her East Surrey constituency as “the lungs of London”. But she is Treasury-minded and concerned about household finances.
On the one hand, he doesn’t want Keir Starmer to be able to paint him as a climate extremist who doesn’t believe in net zero and who has retreated from the green agenda. On the other, he doesn’t want to upset his right flank or go beyond what the public is willing to actually pay for. So putting in an ultra-loyalist who has publicly talked about the importance of the environment, but who is well-known and liked in the parliamentary party, makes a lot of sense.
The wisdom of not putting in Glen is that, although Glen, like Shapps, was someone who backed Sunak over Truss even though it was obvious that the best way to get ahead was to join with the Trussites, Shapps isn’t seen as an ultra-loyalist. Promoting Shapps and Coutinho means today’s papers are full of “here’s this fresh new face”. Promoting Glen and Coutinho would have meant that the story was “embattled prime minister moves in loyalists”. (Bringing in David Johnston, who backed Nadhim Zahawi and then stayed publicly neutral in the first leadership contest, into Coutinho’s old job is also a good way of signalling that Sunak is not narrowing the political base of his government.)
So, a good day’s work for Sunak, albeit easier in a situation where there are no sackings. The question now is whether separating his reshuffles into this small exercise to replace Ben Wallace and a more brutal affair to clear out ministers with whom he disagrees, or who are underperforming, means he gets two sets of good days in Westminster — or if the fallout from the next stage of his reshuffle, delayed until after party conference, will be very painful indeed.
Now try this
I saw Theater Camp, a delightful comedy about, well . . . a theatre camp. It’s a lovely affectionate satire on kids’ theatre (largely and wisely through the lens of the people who teach it, mostly). I might go and see it again after the FT Weekend festival — you can still get tickets here, and do come along to say hi in the subscriber tent and at our live recording of our podcast.
However you spend it, have a lovely weekend!
Top stories today
‘I’m not resigning’ | Northern Ireland’s police chief has resisted demands to quit following a scandal engulfing his leadership, vowing after seven hours of grilling from the force’s oversight board that he would stay on in the job.
Walk out together | Junior doctors in England will join consultants in the first co-ordinated strike action by both groups of medics in the NHS’s 75-year history, a dramatic escalation of their dispute with the government over pay.
UK attempts to boost post-Brexit competitiveness | The British safety watchdog has proposed not classifying lithium chemicals as “toxic” in a post-Brexit regulatory move that is set to bolster investment in the UK electric car supply chain.
Taxes will go up | FT Money assesses the difficult outlook for tax facing future governments and asks what people can do to safeguard their personal finances in the face of a tax burden that is almost certain to increase.
Gboyega Odubanjo | Police have confirmed a body has been found in the search for missing poet Gboyega Odubanjo who vanished over the weekend, the Independent reported. Odubanjo, 27, was scheduled to do a reading at the Shambala festival in Kelmarsh, Northamptonshire on Sunday but never showed up for his performance.