Peter Holt: The Cabinet Reshuffle - as sponsored by PR Week?

David Cameron's ministerial reshuffle turned out to have four main characteristics. The first three were quite unremarkable as these things go - it came across as clumsy, it was a modest shuffle to the right, and it didn't actually involve sacking very many people (at least, not very many male cabinet ministers, who will all now have very tightly pressed knees round an overcrowded cabinet table).

Peter Holt: 'The PRWeek reshuffle'
Peter Holt: 'The PRWeek reshuffle'

It was the fourth characteristic that made it stand out.  Many of the moves, promotions, sideway shunts, and apparently tearful dispatches were explained away to those favoured lobby hacks who enjoy the ear of Number Ten (or Number Eleven) as being about needing to swap the mastermind boffin behind a major reform for a colleague with more skills at selling the implementation of the policy.

It wasn’t that Andrew Lansley was being moved out of Health because the NHS reforms were in any way botched.  No, no – he just needed to be replaced by a better communicator.  

Jeremy Hunt didn’t get moved out of Culture, Media and Sport because of the Murdoch issue ahead of Leveson, it was because the NHS needed a dose of his smooth-tongued persuasion.

Justine Greening wasn’t moved out of Transport to trail any Heathrow policy shift, any more than Michael Fallon was dropped into Business, Innovation and Skills to blunt Vince Cable’s verve to crack down on fat cat bankers. 

The Chancellor didn’t try to ditch Iain Duncan-Smith from Work and Pensions because he’d be an obstacle to cutting benefits even further – no, no – it was just because the welfare reforms needed someone who could sell them on television without the aid of on-screen strepsils.

These changes weren’t about politics or competence – this was officially the PR reshuffle.  I wonder how much PR Week coughed up in sponsorship?


Peter Holt is service director of communication and marketing at Bristol City Council.

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