Friday Fizz: The "Night of the Blunt Knives" Edition

The Friday Fizz is Not Enough Champagne's review of the week's news. You can fInd previous editions here.


Let no holier-than-thou political journalist try and convince you otherwise: reshuffles are very important. On a very base level, they decide the personalities responsible for carrying out policy at the top of government. For instance, the Conservatives have tried for the past four years trying to detoxify their reputation amongst teachers and (to a lesser extent) parents because of Michael Gove's tenure as Education Secretary. If Michael Gove had been appointed Lord Chancellor in 2010, a role in which he was well regarded by the legal profession, or to Environment Secretary, where he has received plaudits from George Monbiot of all people, then perceptions of Gove personally and the Conservative Party would be very different.

However, reshuffles are also important for a very different reason. Just as someone's handwriting can be a great revealer of character, so too how a government conducts a reshuffle tells you a lot about the internal workings of government. The stories that came out after the event about New Labour's reshuffles, of names on post-its falling off whiteboards and not being replaced, or women having to be hastily added to a department where it had been forgotten to add any, sum up the feeling that much of the time Labour spent a lot of time chaotically obsessing over headlines and not over the finer policy detail.

Gordon Brown's reshuffle in 2009 was summed up by David Cameron in a remark I'd completely forgotten about until Matt Chorley quoted it in the Red Box e-mail this morning.

"We have an extraordinary situation where the prime minister can't seem to reshuffle the cabinet but they can't seem to organise a coup. They are, if you like, locked together in this sort of slow dance of political death that is so bad for our country."

It does underline the fact that reshuffles are often metaphors for the wider functioning of government.

What, then, do the replacement of the Secretary of State for Education tell us about the last three Conservative Governments?

Under David Cameron, Michael Gove lasted four years as Education Secretary. In contrast with the chopping and changing of the New Labour years, Cameron made sure that most of his top team stayed in post as long as possible. This wasn't always the case (step forward Andrew Lansley) and Gove was replaced amid reports that his toxic reputation could threaten the Conservatives electoral chances. Cameron, for all his faults (read: plunging the country into the biggest catastrophe since Suez) had a theme with his governments: winning an overal majority. Indeed, one year after sacking Gove David Cameron received an overall majority, which would appear to vindicate his decision.

The sacking of Nicky Morgan as Education Secretary set the tone for the first administration of Theresa May. Morgan was one of a number of ministers jettisoned for too much "blue on blue" action during the referendum campaign. Remember the lectures to George Osborne on loyalty? Also, the nasty briefings that Morgan had cried after receiving the sack (All Out War, p. 574) seem symptomatic the political operation that Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill ran. Back just over eighteen months ago, it felt like May reigned supreme over British Politics. Sacking lots of ministers with a very small majority also led to the feeling that May was potentially piling up lots of problems down the line for only a short-term gain, a feeling reinforced by subsequent events, most notably the hasty triggering of Article 50 before any serious preparatory work had been done.

We have come a long way since then. Monday's reshuffle was botched from all angles. There's that swiftly-deleted tweet appointing Chris Grayling as Party Chairman. Two Cabinet Ministers telling May that they weren't going to move role. The most significant changes being the alteration of a department's name to include things that they did anyway. Then Justine Greening resigned from the government because she would not accept a move to the Department for Work and Pensions. Greening's resignation tells you a lot about Theresa May's government. The absolute tin ear for the basic vote counting necessary in Parliamentary Politics that was also shown by the 2016 reshuffle: creating a disaffected pro-Remain MP in a very Remain marginal is a terrible strategic move. Greening's record on Education is a fairly decent one. A Cabinet n which Greening leaves when Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, David Davis and Chris Grayling survive even comes close to being called a meritocracy. It is the story of a Prime Minister trying to reassert her authority whilst failing in quite spectacular fashion.

Old, New, Borrowed and Blue:

Old: Back in September we talked about what the biggest stories will be in British Politics. Listen to see if we were right.

New: We have a midweek shot out on the movers and shakers of 2018.


Borrowed: I finally got round to reading the extract of Fire and Fury in the New York Magazine. We have recorded a podcast on the Joshua Green's book "Devil's Bargain" about the relationahip between Trump and Bannon. In it, Bannon talks about how stories for Breitbart needed to be "narratively true" rather than factually true. Interestingly, that's been the position of many who have read Fire and Fury; that although details may not be true, the broad outline of the Trump White House is correct. Truth is a strange thing, isn't it?

Also, Marie Le Conte has an insightful read on the Conservative Party's problems with social media, with added Philip Cowley.

Blue: I found this a particularly interesting piece on the lost tribes of British Politics.

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I enjoyed this Talking Politics Podcast on the parallels between Brexit and the Reformation.