The Department for International Development (DfID) is to be returned to the place from whence it came (the Foreign Office). But will it be the only bit of Whitehall for the chop?
Dominic Cummings wants to reform the machinery of government — and that needs to start at the top, by shrinking the Cabinet.
Counting all its members and semi-members, it’s roughly the size of a pre-Covid classroom — and too unruly to be an effective decision-making body. According to David Henke’s Westminster Confidential blog, Cummings would like to see it whittled down to just “six or seven key ministers”.
Is that even possible? A smaller Cabinet implies a smaller number of departments — if all areas of policy are to be represented.
I think we could get down to just eight departments and, thus, eight Secretaries of State, who, with the Prime Minister, would make up a Cabinet of nine. That’s not quite six or seven, but it’s still single figures.
Ok, then — who survives the game of musical chairs?
I’d keep the four ‘great offices of state’: PM, Chancellor, Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary. This would leave five places, three of which would be taken by the Secretaries of State for Defence, Health and Education — leaving just two empty seats.
We can hardly choose between the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so we should combine the responsibility for devolved affairs (plus decentralisation within England) under a Secretary of State for the Constitution. He or she would also serve as Deputy Prime Minister.
Only one seat around the Cabinet table now remains. This should be devoted to the Government’s levelling-up agenda and its green objectives. In other words, a super-ministry for sustainable growth or building a better Britain or whatever you want to call it. It would combine all the infrastructural, agricultural, environmental and science stuff — including housing, energy and transport.
Meanwhile the Foreign Office, having digested DfID, would also absorb Department for International Trade. The Home Office would take back the Department of Justice and the communities brief. The Education department would split the culture, media and sport portfolio with the infrastructure department (see above).
The one major department I haven’t accounted for yet is Work and Pensions. I’d devolve a lot of what it does to local government, and what remains should go to the Treasury — putting the tax and benefits system under one roof.
And that’s it, more or less: Eight departments represented by eight Secretaries of State, each answering to the Prime Minister. Based on the current ministerial ranks — and ensuring that at least a third of places go to women — this is what the new Cabinet of nine might look like:
Prime Minister — Boris Johnson
Deputy Prime Minister — Michael Gove
Chancellor of the Exchequer — Rishi Sunak
Foreign Secretary — Dominic Raab
Home Secretary — Priti Patel
Secretary of State for Defence — Penny Mordaunt
Secretary of State for Heath and Social Care — Matt Hancock
Secretary of State for Education — Baroness Evans
But who do we choose for what would be the most transformative role — Secretary of State for the whiz-bang, post-Brexit economy of the future? It has to be someone who’s really into it and sees how all the pieces fit together to build the high tech, zero-carbon New Jerusalem.
Well, there can only be one man for the job: arise Lord Cummings of Barnard Castle!