Nfter just over a hundred days in office, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has reshuffled his cabinet. New “Chairman” of the Conservative Party is Greg Hands, who previously worked in the Department of Commerce; a pro-European Tory politician who speaks fluent German. The post of “Chairman,” which is comparable to that of Secretary-General, had become vacant when Nadhim Zahawi was thrown out by Sunak two weeks ago over a tax affair.
The Department of Trade, which was set up after Brexit, is now to be merged with the Department for Economic Affairs and will be led by Kemi Badenoch, who has been responsible for international trade since the autumn. The previous Secretary of Commerce, Grant Shapps, will be moved to the newly designed “Department of Energy Security and CO2-Neutrality (Net Zero)”. Also newly created is the “Ministry of Science, Innovation and Technology,” which will be taken over by Michelle Donelan, who previously served as Minister of Culture. She follows Lucy Frazer.
Above all, the appointment of the experienced Hand was interpreted in London as preparation for the slowly beginning election campaign. The Conservative Party has trailed the Labor Party by around 20 percent in the polls for months and is slowly preparing for the general elections expected next year. The cabinet reshuffle is apparently intended to illustrate Sunak’s focus on future issues.
Economic crisis and mass strikes
The reorganization will “ensure that the whole government is geared up to deliver for the British people,” the government said in a statement. The conversion reflects the priorities of the British and directs the focus “on a better future for our children and grandchildren”. Downing Street spoke on Tuesday of the Prime Minister’s five priorities: halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing debt, reducing healthcare waiting lists and ending illegal migration across the Channel.
At the same time, the government headquarters conceded that the restructuring was “not a silver bullet”, but this was not claimed either. Great Britain is currently suffering from a deep economic crisis and has been groaning under mass strikes for months. While the Sunak government managed to stabilize the economy and curb inflation after the turmoil under his predecessor Liz Truss, it has also advocated unpopular tax increases and is struggling to convince citizens of the benefits of Brexit.
The opposition reacted to the cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday with criticism and ridicule. The Liberal Democrats spoke of a “leaderless restructuring” and estimated the cost at £60m. This was denied by the government. In the Labor Party it was described as “silly” to restructure the machinery of government so close to elections. The restructuring would consume a lot of time and energy that a party in campaign mode has no time for. There were also complaints that the “Industrial Strategy” department no longer appears in the title of a ministry.
“This government has run out of ideas and has nothing more to offer British business,” said Labor MP Jonathan Reynolds. A phrase popular in England has been put forward by unions now organizing strikes across the country: the government should focus on resolving industrial disputes rather than ‘regrouping the deckchairs on the deck of the Titanic’.
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