Boris Johnson's reshuffle shows his government is unashamedly populist – Ayesha Hazarika

The much-anticipated big reshuffle finally happened, although it took a while.

There’s no confusion over what Boris Johnson's government stands for, unlike the Labour party, says Ayesha Hazarika (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/WPA pool/Getty Images)
There’s no confusion over what Boris Johnson's government stands for, unlike the Labour party, says Ayesha Hazarika (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/WPA pool/Getty Images)

The Taliban managed to take Kabul and announce their new government before Boris Johnson revamped his, although events in Afghanistan ended up sealing the fate of Dominic Raab aka Face of the Great Greece Getaway 2021.

For political watchers, it was worth the wait. Whatever your politics, it was bold. There has been much speculation – or naïve wishful thinking on the left – that Johnson was ready to throw in the towel due to his complicated private life, well-documented financial pressures, and the fact that the gig at No 10 turned out to be much tougher and less jazz hands than he originally thought.

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The reshuffle shows that Johnson is very much alive and kicking, and limbering up for the next general election.

He was right to finally tell Gavin Williamson to go away and shut up because he knows education is one of his government’s biggest weak spots and could become the symbolic failure in his levelling up agenda. Nadhim Zahawi’s promotion to Education Secretary will bring loyalty which is still prized but also some much-needed competency after his star turn in leading the vaccine roll-out programme.

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Nadine Dorries to Digital, Culture, Media and Sport shows that Johnson still has the element of surprise and that he is the master of pushing the buttons of progressive outrage.

My timeline is full of people from my wing of politics calling her thick, useless and demanding her immediate cancellation, but that is exactly the reaction Johnson wants.

I may disagree with her politics but calling a former nurse who became an MP and a best-selling author stupid reeks of the kind of snobbery which is killing the Labour party.

Dorries probably has more in common with many a former Labour voter who went blue than many of the recent Shadow frontbench. She famously launched the most effective and memorable attack lines of the time against David Cameron and George Osborne, calling them posh boys who didn’t know the price of milk.

I was working for the Labour party at the time and even we didn’t have the balls to say that. We did, of course, quote her.

Dorries was also asked on Have I Got News For You about whether she was Cuddly Cameron or UKIP-y, and she plumped for the latter quick as a flash with a proud smile.

And that is exactly what the party and government of Johnson is. Unapologetically, populist, patriotic, old-school, true-blue Brexit. Their war isn’t against climate change or poverty, it’s against the elites or progressive politics – even though privately educated politicians dominate the new Cabinet.

Dorries will be Secretary of State for the Culture Wars but what did you expect? The Labour attack line is that Johnson has put his friends in the top jobs. No s*** Sherlock. That’s what most leaders want to do, if they can. They want a team signed up to their vision and values, lock, stock, and barrel.

That’s even more true of Johnson. His Cabinet meetings won’t even waste any time having any debate about their political DNA. Every department from the great offices of state to CCHQ is led by someone with the same values and ideological hymn sheet.

You may hate it and make a decent argument about the need for plural voices and views but there’s no confusion over what Johnson or his Cabinet stands for. Which is a far cry from what’s happening over in the Labour party where we are still waiting for a pithy 14,000-word love letter from Keir Starmer to party members about his vision and his much-anticipated conference speech. This reshuffle needs to sharpen minds on the left.

Stop wasting time slagging off Nadine Dorries. She’s the least of your problems. The more you do, the more popular she gets. Look at the rise of left-wing meme queen Liz Truss. It was an artful move on the part of Johnson to elevate a new potential popular female successor to rival Rishi Sunak.

Labour needs to look at the bigger picture. Work out and tell us in clear, simple language what Starmer and Labour would do. Focus on the facts not the personalities. Focus on getting in touch with what people beyond the party and social media are feeling.

I don’t think this new Johnson government is going to have an easy ride. We know that a difficult winter lies ahead for the health service. Working people are about to get clobbered with tax hikes and cuts to benefits as the cost of living rises. This reshuffle is the starting gun to the next general election. Labour has got to get its skates on.

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