257: The reality of a reshuffle
Underneath the headlines of who is in and who is out, sits the reality of what a reshuffle means for public affairs. A reshuffle really means more work!
The politics of a reshuffle are endlessly fascinating. Trying to understand the appointments, the sackings and even the resignations, starts to explain what makes the government tick and the approaches to engagement that should be considered.
However, once the immediate excitement has quietened down, it is time for the real work to start.
In the first place, it will be important to tell clients and / or colleagues about what has happened in their areas. Some of this explanation should cover the politics but, more importantly, explain whether it means anything for their issues and whether any actions are required.
There is no doubt that some immediate engagement with a new minister will be required but what should such a congratulatory letter include as well?
- Update on the issues – provide some brief information on where the issue is now, especially if there is anything outstanding. Also do your best to make the issue relevant to them rather than just being a hangover from the previous ministerial team.
- Do some joining up – give some background and setting, explain the issue and note if there are potential solutions for the government. If there are already relations with officials then mention them.
- Challenges for the future – briefly prepare them for what is to come. Again, especially if action from government may be needed.
- About you – never take any level of knowledge for granted and always take the opportunity to take a little time to explain who you are and why you are important. Always think about your reputation and why any minister should listen to you when writing this section.
Then, of course, alongside the announcement of new ministers may come changes in the advisory team. New Special Advisers (SpADs) come in to work alongside the new ministers and others disappear, often into public affairs, alongside the old ministers. Again, new relationships to establish.
When ministerial changes do take place, there could be a fresh impetus to get behind an issue or a little more distance expressed. Rarely though is there a complete change in approach.
This time around, the obvious reality is that number 10 is in charge. Any significant alterations in policy or approach will come from number 10. This brings us to a wider point about current engagement and the apparent centralisation in process. That does not make engagement with ministers and their SpADs the wrong approach, it should remain the foundation of any programme. But you also need to reflect any ‘asks’ through the prism of what they can be expected to do and also assume, and factor in, potential sign-off, or at least the sighting by number 10. That will impact on timescales but also where you direct your more significant attention. The role of HM Treasury itself will shift. It retains a critical importance but the destiny of many of its policies will no longer be in its hands. Where it comes to number 10, the competition for its attention will be even more fierce.
So reshuffles should be a mix of politics, political insight and hard work. The consequence of this reshuffle is that number 10 is even more in control than before.