The Cabinet is made up of 22 Ministers, including the Prime Minister. Each is a Secretary of State, in charge of a Government Department.
Often, a Prime Minister may choose to ‘reshuffle’ their Cabinet and the wider Government. It is strongly rumored that Theresa May is planning to reshuffle her Cabinet.
However, the average tenure of a Cabinet Member in a particular job is not long. Since 2005 the average time that a Government Minister stays in a job is 1.3 years. This is hardly enough time for them to fully grasp their brief. Often, Ministers are moved because they are promoted. However, they often moved as part of a reshuffle. A reshuffle is the term given for when the Prime Minister chooses to promote, demote, remove or move members of their Government.
On average, a Cabinet Reshuffle takes place every two years. So why do they happen?
1. A reshuffle might happen simply to deal with a vacancy in the Cabinet. Cabinet Ministers may be sacked, they may resign, or, occasionally, they may die. In the last few months Theresa May has lost three Cabinet Members:
This has left her with a potential reason to reshuffle her Cabinet.
2. A reshuffle might be an attempt to change the direction of Government Policy. By moving key figures in the Government a different emphasis can be placed on different policies. It has been rumored that in a Cabinet Reshuffle Theresa May will put Boris Johnson in charge of the Brexit Process, replacing David Davis who is currently Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. There is a clear cabinet split over Brexit. Placing Boris Johnson in charge of the process may be an attempt to put a more powerful and publicly recognised voice in charge of the process.
3. A Cabinet Reshuffle may also be simply to make sure that the Prime Minister has the best possible team in place. A Prime Minister will want to promote their allies and also ensure that the big characters in her party have important roles in the Cabinet. This was certainly the case when Theresa May gave Boris Johnson the job of Cabinet Secretary.
Although Cabinet Reshuffles take place regularly, some are more famous than others. The most famous is perhaps what is known as the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in 1962. Harold MacMillan had been Prime Minister for five years and wanted to give his Cabinet a reshuffle. MacMillan was one of the first UK Prime Minister to recognise the importance of image – particularly as during his premiership television sets had started to make their way into ordinary people’s homes. On 13th July 1962 MacMillan sacked one-third of his Cabinet. One of the Cabinet Members removed was Selwyn Lloyd the Chancellor of the Exchequer. For MacMillan, the reshuffle was a disaster. His plans had been leaked to the press two days earlier. To many it looked like a rash move – not in tune with what was traditionally expected of UK Prime Ministers.
So, should Theresa May reshuffle her Cabinet? The biggest challenge that the Government faces is Brexit. It is the biggest challenge that any Government has faced in a generation. At present, negotiations have been slow and there has been a split message. The Brexit process has been managed by a quadrumvirate: Theresa May from Number 10 Downing Street, David Davis as Brexit Secretary, Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary and Liam Fox as Trade Secretary. In any reshuffle, May will want to narrow this process and give a single figure more authority of the process.