Working to make government more effective



The Real Deal with Cabinet Reshuffles Under Cameron and Blair.

With both the European and local elections, and the Newark by-election, out of the way, political attention – and media focus – has shifted to a possible Cabinet reshuffle.

So what cards has David Cameron dealt in his reshuffles so far? And, four years in to the Coalition, how does his sticking and twisting compare with the first four-year term (1997-2001) of Tony Blair’s premiership? We’ve kept our analysis to secretaries of state or their equivalents in charge of departments, excluding law officers and Whips.

David Cameron, 2010-2014

Since May 2010, David Cameron has made two ‘unforced’ reshuffles – those which were not forced upon him by resignations. These came in September 2012, which saw eight departments change secretaries of state, and October 2013, which saw only the Scotland Office change at Cabinet rank.

Altogether, eight departments (of the 19 in our analysis) retain the same Secretary of State as they had when the Coalition was formed in May 2010. Three – the Scotland Office, DfT and DCMS – are now on their third Secretary of State. ‘Forced’ reshuffles saw Michael Moore replace Danny Alexander (who replaced David Laws as Chief Secretary to the Treasury); Philip Hammond replace Dr Liam Fox at Defence; Justine Greening replace Hammond at Transport; Ed Davey replace Chris Huhne at DECC; and Sajid Javid succeeding Maria Miller at DCMS.

Tony Blair, 1997-2001

Like Cameron, Blair made two ‘unforced’ reshuffles: the first, in July 1998, saw four departments change Secretary of State, as did the second in October 1999. Of the 16 departments in our analysis, seven had the same Secretary of State upon the dissolution of Parliament in May 2001 as upon the formation of government in May 1997.

Five departments – DTI, Cabinet Office, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – were on their third Secretary of State. We’ve not included the Minister for Transport in our graphics – although they attended Cabinet, they were junior to the Secretary of State for DETR – but there were four of them between 1997 and 2001. Reshuffles were forced by Peter Mandelson’s two resignations (from the DTI in 1998 and Northern Ireland in 2001); at the Wales Office, by Ron Davies’ ‘moment of madness’ and Alun Michael’s appointment as First Secretary; and at the Scotland Office, by Donald Dewar’s appointment as Scottish First Minister.

Comparing the hands: 1997-2001 and 2010-2014

There can be no perfect comparison between 1997-2001 and 2010-2014. Some departments have changed. The rhythm of parliaments is very different: the Coalition has completed four years of a five-year fixed term compared to a Blair government that served four years before the Prime Minister called an election.

Nonetheless, there are similarities. The great offices of state – Chancellor, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary – are stable. The same is true of Education, and also of the department responsible for local government – although the differing nature of DETR and DCLG, and John Prescott’s position as Deputy Prime Minister make this less meaningful.

Contrastingly, the transport brief has travelled between a number of different ministers in both governments – three under Cameron and four under Blair. Some departments were more stable between 1997 and 2001 than between 2010 and 2014 – DCMS and DfID – while since 2010, the Cabinet Office has had only Francis Maude compared to David Clark, Jack Cunningham and Mo Mowlam between 1997 and 2001. This may reflect, in part, the relative importance given to these briefs – efficiency under Cameron, and the pledges to create and beef up DfID and DCMS respectively under Blair.

However imperfect the comparisons, they give us some idea of the relative stability of secretaries of state under both Blair and Cameron. Cameron (thus far) has had 1.74 secretaries of state per department (33 in 19), while Blair had 1.88 (30 in 16 departments). This may be a little surprising; Blair is often regarded as a cardsharp forever shuffling his pack, Cameron as a player keeping his cards close to his chest. Blair’s reputation may owe something to subsequent New Labour terms, which saw machinery of government changes as well as Cabinet reshuffling.

But the question for the time being is – what cards does Cameron have up his sleeve before 2015?

Related content