27 July 2017

With Theresa May on holiday this week, Damian Green is in charge. The new list of Cabinet committees shows the influential role of the First Secretary of State, argues Aron Cheung

Changes in the membership of Cabinet committees all but confirm Damian Green’s new role as the de-facto Deputy Prime Minister.  

As with the post-election reshuffle, the new committees mostly show continuity, but there are some key signs of changes in how the Government will operate.

The effective functioning of these committees will be crucial if the Prime Minister is to deliver on Brexit and domestic objectives.

A new and enhanced role for Damian Green.

One of the few significant reshuffle changes at Cabinet level was Damian Green’s elevation to First Secretary of State and Minister for the Cabinet Office, effectively second amongst equals in the Cabinet.

This is underlined by his position on Cabinet committees, which is where a lot of the real business of government happens. These committees, like the Cabinet itself, have the power to take collective decisions that are binding across government.

Damian Green now attends 18 out of 20 committees, including all committees that are not attended and chaired by the Prime Minister herself.

Since the membership of Cabinet committees was last published in March, the number of committees attended by Damian Green has doubled from nine to 18. Ben Gummer, who was Damian Green’s predecessor at the Cabinet Office until he lost his seat in the June election, attended 14 committees.

Others who find themselves playing a greater role include Michael Gove and David Lidington, while the number of committees attended by Andrea Leadsom and Liz Truss has fallen. Theresa May now chairs and attends fewer committees, suggesting an adapted leadership style.

In March, neither Damian Green (as the Work and Pensions Secretary) nor Ben Gummer (Green’s predecessor at the Cabinet Office) chaired any committees. But now, Damian Green chairs eight cabinet committees, and acts as the deputy chair in an additional three.

This includes committees previously chaired by other Cabinet ministers who have remained in post, namely:

  • The Social Reform (Home Affairs) sub-committee, previously chaired by Amber Rudd
  • The EU Exit and Trade (European Affairs) sub-committee, previously chaired by Patrick McLoughlin
  • The Housing Taskforce, previously chaired by Sajid Javid

Damian Green now chairs as many committees as Theresa May (who chairs all eight committees that she attends). Apart from Green and May, nobody else in government chairs more than one committee. The other ministers chairing committees are Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and Andrea Leadsom.

The reshuffle of Cabinet committees reveals new political priorities.

There are now 20 cabinet committees and implementation taskforces in total, down from 23 in the previous list published in March. This reduction suggests a narrowing of focus for the Government, which, in a challenging political environment, is doubling down on key priorities.

The focus of Cabinet committees can reveal a Prime Minister’s political priorities. When Theresa May became Prime Minister, she established the Taskforce for Tackling Modern Slavery and People Trafficking – an area which had been a policy focus for her as Home Secretary.

At the same time, she abolished the Public Expenditure Committee (which had existed for six years under David Cameron) as well as the Health and Social Care Taskforce (which now seems like a strange decision given the pressures on the social care system).

This time, four committees have been abolished, including the:

  • National Security Council (Cyber) sub-Committee
  • Childcare Taskforce
  • Earn or Learn Taskforce
  • Tackling Extremism in Communities Taskforce

As with social care, the decision to abolish the Cyber sub-Committee seems at odds with the fact that cybersecurity is a growing concern.

A new Taskforce for Employment and Skills has been created, and the Digital Infrastructure and Inclusion Taskforce has been reformulated as the Digital Taskforce.

The remaining cabinet committees seem stable, with 18 surviving unchanged after the reshuffle.

Leave supporters are more prevalent on the Brexit committees.

Those who supported Remain in the EU referendum outnumber those who supported Leave in every Cabinet committee, however the balance varies by committee.

The percentage of Leave supporting members is highest for the EU Exit and Trade Committee, its sub-committees and the Reducing Regulation sub-Committee. This suggests that these are the areas of government that Brexiteers will have the greatest ownership and influence. It should be noted that all but one of the committees - including the four Brexit committees and the Reducing Regulation committee - are chaired by Remain supporters.

The Social Reform committee has no Leave supporting members. 

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