Boris Johnson has overturned his people-pleaser reputation “in dramatic fashion”, says the Daily Mail. “With brutal decisiveness”, he “wielded the knife against a string of dud ministers” in this week’s cabinet reshuffle. Gavin Williamson and Robert Jenrick are out the door, and Dominic Raab, who sunned himself on a Crete beach while Kabul fell, has “suffered the humiliation of demotion”. The government has recently been “beset by flounder and drift”. Johnson’s boldness signals his resolve to tackle “huge challenges” like social care, the NHS backlog and levelling up.
MPs “spy a sense of invincibility” in the PM, says Katy Balls in The Guardian, quoting an adviser who thinks Johnson is “in world king mode”. After persuading his party to break a manifesto pledge and raise taxes for social care, he thought nothing of dispensing with early backers of his leadership like Jenrick. And with Dominic Cummings’s attacks not sticking, the threat from a disgruntled Williamson, who knows plenty of Tory secrets, doesn’t look so bad either.
The reshuffle is also geared to the next general election, which could be held as early as May 2023. Liz Truss, the new foreign secretary, is a Thatcherite “favourite of the party faithful” who will vie with Rishi Sunak as Johnson’s heir-in-waiting, says Esther Webber in Politico. The education brief, always a vote winner or loser, has been taken over by Nadhim Zahawi, whose confident performance as vaccines minister won him considerable acclaim.
And while Michael Gove’s new role as housing secretary “looks like a sadistic demotion”, it couldn’t be more important, says Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. Jenrick “was tortured in the job”, stuck between a prime minister who wants to build 300,000 houses a year and Tory backbenchers who are firmly opposed. But Gove, who’s also now in charge of levelling up, has form with “high-stakes, high-danger” briefs. As education secretary, he “brilliantly” allowed thousands of schools to break free from governmental control. Now he must “confront the cabal of big housebuilders” and open up the market – and turn levelling up “from a slogan into an agenda”. The future of Toryism “may well be in his hands”.
The biggest reshuffle surprise was Nadine Dorries becoming culture secretary. “Was whoever decided that on LSD at the time?” complained one Tory MP to the Financial Times. Dorries does not play by Westminster’s traditional rules. She has eaten ostrich anus on the reality TV show I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here and, as a popular fiction writer, is one of the most successful novelists to join the cabinet since Disraeli.
She’s also an enthusiastic culture warrior, tweeting as far back as 2017 that “left wing snowflakes” were “dumbing down panto”. I for one am excited about the prospect of highbrow panto, says Robert Hutton in The Critic. “Coming next year to the Blackpool Grand, Chekov’s Three Ugly Sisters.” Dorries seems set to transform the culture job from “Minister for Fun” to “Secretary of State for Telegraph Articles About Statues”.