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Churn, churn, churn?

The movement of government ministers, 2010-15.

Two years ago, David Cameron was praised by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee for the ‘comparable restraint’ he had shown in moving his ministers around. At the end of his first term as Prime Minister, what does his record on reshuffles look like? Emily Andrews looks back at the movement of ministers since 2010.

Six departments have the same secretary of state as in May 2010 – but the same number are onto their third secretary of state of the parliament.


Under David Cameron’s premiership, six departments – BIS, the Cabinet Office, DCLG, DWP, the Treasury and the Home Office – have kept the same secretary of state since the initial appointment of the Government in early May 2010. Seven departments have had two secretaries of state, while six – the Scotland Office, Wales Office, Defra, DfT, DCMS and MoD – have had three. With the exception of MoD, smaller departments – like DCMS, DfT and Defra – have mostly seen the biggest turnover at Cabinet level.

Most of these changes have been ‘unforced reshuffles’ – moves the Prime Minister (and Deputy Prime Minister) have chosen to make. But there have been a few ‘forced’ changes at Cabinet level, following the resignations of David Laws (May 2010), Liam Fox (October 2011), Chris Huhne (February 2012) and Maria Miller (April 2014). When we compared David Cameron’s first four years to Tony Blair’s first term as PM (which lasted four years, from 1997-2001), we found that the levels of Cabinet turnover were strikingly similar.

This somewhat undermines the divergent reputations of Cameron as restrained, and Blair as an arch-shuffler. Between 1997 and 2001, Blair had an average of 1.88 secretaries of state per department (30 in 16), while Cameron had 1.74 (33 in 19) in his first four years. Across the whole of the Cameron government, 2010-15, there have been an average of two secretaries of state per department (38 in 19). Cabinet continuity in the later New Labour years was undermined by frequent machinery of government changes, something Cameron has entirely avoided. There may be good reasons for moving ministers without being forced to – but excessive turnover can cause problems for implementation of policies, the leadership of departments and the effectiveness of government more generally. (Francis Maude’s five years at the Cabinet Office, for example, has allowed him to focus on reform of the Civil Service.) This is also true of junior ministers, who do a lot of the ‘heavy lifting’ in seeing policies through parliament and their department.

18 ministers remain in the same post they were appointed to when the government was established in May 2010.

The chart above shows all the ministers in post – secretaries of state, ministers of state and parliamentary under secretaries of state – at the end of this Parliament. It shows the percentage of ministers in each department who came into their post at each reshuffle. Those highlighted in pink at the bottom have been in post since 2010. 18 ministers in total (out of 121) remain in the same post now as in May 2010. Less than 10% of the junior ministers appointed in 2010 have held onto their post until the end of the parliament, including Steve Webb as Minister for Pensions and Lord Freud as Minister for Welfare reform at DWP, David Lidington as Minister for Europe at FCO, and Oliver Letwin at the Cabinet Office. Six departments retained no ministers in the same post throughout the whole of the Parliament and three of those – DfID, Defra and DCMS – had three different secretaries of state. DH and DWP have been the most stable departments in terms of turnover: three of the five DWP ministers currently in post have been there since 2010, while four out of six DH ministers have been there since 2012.

In eight departments, 50% or more of their ministers were new to their post in July 2014, or since.

This is the same chart again, but highlighting the newest ministers – those who only came into their post at the July 2014 reshuffle or later. In eight departments – DfE, DfID, BIS, FCO, DCLG, HO, MoD, and DEC – at least 50% of their current ministerial team has spent less than a year in their post. Across these 17 departments, 39% of government ministers at dissolution had held that post for less than a year. Turnover doesn’t always mean movement in and out of the department. Ministers who are new to their post at a reshuffle may have been promoted within that department, moving from parliamentary under-secretary of state to minister of state level. And in some cases, that movement up the junior ministerial ranks within one department can be a springboard to more senior roles elsewhere.

Three junior ministers at the Treasury have gone on to become secretaries of state in other departments.


While only the Chancellor and Chief Secretary have remained in the same post since 2010, the Treasury has acted as a conveyor belt for talent through, and beyond, the department. This chart show the four ministers who have been promoted up through the ranks at HMT, including three who were subsequently promoted to lead other departments. Both Sajid Javid and Nicky Morgan went on to become secretaries of state (at DCMS and DfE respectively) having only joined Parliament in 2010, and progressing through the Treasury as Economic Secretary and then Financial Secretary (in Javid’s case, starting out as the Chancellor’s Parliamentary Private Secretary). Justine Greening went straight from Economic Secretary to Secretary of State for Transport. David Gauke has moved from being Exchequer Secretary to Financial Secretary, while current Economic Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, joined the department from the Treasury Select Committee.

It is notable that all of these promoted ministers are Conservative: the Treasury has only provided a springboard up the ranks for members of the dominant party. Speaking at an IfG panel event last month, Julia Goldsworthy – former special adviser to Danny Alexander at the Treasury – advised that any junior coalition party in the future would also need to show its MPs ‘opportunities for progression’ to keep its backbench ‘well behaved’. In our next post, we will look more closely at the division of posts between the two coalition parties, across different departments and ministerial ranks. Just how well did Cameron and Clegg perform their balancing act?

Public figures
David Cameron
Institute for Government

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