New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Politics
  2. Conservatives
7 February 2023

Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle won’t revive his political fortunes

As Dominic Raab’s future remains uncertain, the Prime Minister could be forced into further changes in just a few weeks.

By Rachel Wearmouth

Rishi Sunak has reshuffled his cabinet following the sacking of Nadhim Zahawi as Conservative chair and has announced a wider reorganisation of his government.

As well as appointing Greg Hands as the new Tory chair – an unenviable task ahead of the local elections in May – Sunak has created four new government departments. The portfolio of Kemi Badenoch, the Trade Secretary, portfolio has been expanded to also include business, while Lucy Frazer, formerly housing minister, has been promoted to the cabinet to take on a revised culture, media and sport brief. Michelle Donelan has been moved from the latter to lead a new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. Finally, Sunak’s long-standing ally Grant Shapps will lead a Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, which aligns the government with Labour’s frontbench (Shapps will be shadowed by Ed Miliband).

What does the reshuffle tell us about the Prime Minister? Sunak’s hand was forced as he could no longer delay the appointment of a new party chairman. He has tried to turn Zahawi’s sacking to his advantage by framing the reshuffle as a “100-day reset” of his government, which is mired in crisis due to strikes, scandals and the squeeze on living standards. As one senior Tory put it to me last week: “It’s not been a case of dry January but rather goodbye January.”

That Sunak chose to avoid changes to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – which contains even more separate responsibilities than its name suggests – is a mark of his weakness. Housing is one of the most urgent issues facing the government.

Frazer was the 15th housing minister since 2010 and the fifth in eight months, which exposes Sunak to criticism that he doesn’t take the brief seriously. His reluctance to touch levelling up, after the debacle that was the latest funding round, suggests Sunak feared another unwelcome intervention by Boris Johnson.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

The Whitehall reorganisation was touted as a refocus but in reality will simply mean moving civil servants around. The Liberal Democrats estimate that setting up four new departments will cost the government £60m – money they say could be spent on providing almost 25 million free school meals.

But the reshuffle has allowed Sunak to put his own stamp on government. As the Conservatives lose support in the business community to Labour, combining trade and business sends an important signal. A dedicated science and innovation department mirrors the rhetorical emphasis of Sunak and Hunt on job opportunities in tech.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero appears to be a U-turn, after the Conservatives merged the Department for Energy and Climate Change, created by Gordon Brown, with business in 2016 (as Ed Miliband has been swift to point out).

One problem remains unsolved, however. Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary, is still in post, though it is widely believed that the ongoing inquiry into bullying allegations against him will render his position untenable. That Sunak could be forced to reshuffle his top team once more in a few weeks’ time will only reinforce the impression of disorder and a lack of control at the centre.

[See also: Is any Tory capable of feeling shame?]

Content from our partners
The power of place in tackling climate change
Tackling the UK's biggest health challenges
"Heat or eat": how to help millions in fuel poverty – with British Gas Energy Trust

Topics in this article : ,