by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 15
September 2021
Explainer
18:31

Michael Gove is now the most important man in government

And, incidentally, I called it a year ago
by Peter Franklin
Michael Gove walks down Downing Street. Credit” Getty

You read it here first. 

Last year, I took a look at the Cabinet and concluded that Gavin Williamson and Robert Jenrick should be sacked; that Dominic Raab was in the wrong job; and that Liz Truss was flourishing at International Trade. 

I also had this to say about Michael Gove:

Allied to his knowledge of the inner workings of the Whitehall machine, Gove has become indispensable. And yet his talents could be better deployed. He is, at heart, a radical — willing to pursue reform in the face of entrenched opposition. As soon as the Covid crisis is over, he should be put in charge of solving another problem that’s been left unsolved for the last decade or more: housing.
- Peter Franklin, The Post

And lo it came to pass. Michael Gove is the new Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government (he also has cross-cutting responsibility for the levelling-up agenda and the Union). 

Never mind the other moves of the day, this is by far the most important appointment of the whole reshuffle. Nothing matters more to the future of our county — or indeed the long-term survival of the Conservative Party — than solving the housing crisis. 

If there’s one minister capable of changing the whole course of government policy on this issue, it’s Gove. 

This crucial move aside, does the reshuffle tell us anything more about the ideological direction of this government?

Well, we can at least discern a newfound commitment to the principle of meritocracy. Boris has finally got serious about competence (at least among his colleagues). This is a welcome change from the previous policy of pets win prizes. 

More than anything, job performance has dictated today’s pattern of promotions, demotions and departures. The exception that proves the rule is poor Robert Buckland, who did a decent job at Justice but was dropped to facilitate Raab’s downward trajectory. 

Aside from Foreign Secretary, the PM hasn’t decided to play it safe with the other great offices of state. Rishi Sunak remains as Chancellor and Priti Patel as Home Secretary. So apart from particular areas of policy that need shoring-up like housing and education, there’s no obvious change in the overall direction of the government. 

There’s been no return for high-ranking exiles like Jeremy Hunt. Nor have we seen the accelerated preferment of rising stars like Kemi Badenoch. Next time perhaps. The only real surprise is the appointment of Nadine Dorries to DCMS. This will annoy all the right people and might indicate a renewed willingness to fight culture wars (or, more accurately, to fight back). 

Conservative reshuffles were once analysed for the balance between Tory Right and Left, and Eurosceptics versus Europhiles. However, these distinctions have become redundant. This is a government of high-spending Brexiteers that need to worry as much about their new voters in the North as they do about their old southern heartlands.

Absolutely nothing about today’s reshuffle indicates any deviation from the new normal. This is Boris Johnson’s party now, not Margaret Thatcher’s. 

Join the discussion


  • I share your enthusiasm for Gove. He made the most progress in education for decades.
    Ok, he’s an oleaginous slimeball, who’d stab you for your mum’s bus fare, but he gets results – just what you want in a PM

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