Regular reshuffles ‘major weakness’ in British politics

Regular reshuffles “undermine good government” and are a “major weakness” in British politics, a leading think tank has suggested.

The Institute for Government (IfG) warned that the length of time a UK secretary of state stayed in the job was now closer to that of a football manager than a CEO.

A report published by the think tank last week urged Boris Johnson to avoid the “constant ‘churn’ of ministers that has characterised UK governments in recent decades”.

Esther McVey's departure means a 10th housing minister since 2010 (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Esther McVey's departure means a 10th housing minister since 2010 (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“Such constant change undermines good government. It means ministers lack the expertise they need to do their jobs effectively and are unable to see policies through to results,” it said.

“This is a major weakness of the British system of government: as one former secretary of state put it, it is not ‘a serious way to run a country’.”

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has had seven secretaries of state since 2010, while the Department for Work and Pensions has been led by six different secretaries of state in less than four years.

Of the nine housing ministers since 2010, Grant Shapps was the longest in post – staying for just over two years.

The sacking of Esther McVey on Thursday means the department will see its tenth minister in 10 years, despite successive governments calling the housing crisis a priority.

Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey also leave Cabinet. McVey's departure means we will have a tenth housing minister since 2010.

More #reshuffle analysis on our live-blog

— Institute for Gov (@instituteforgov) February 13, 2020

The IfG argued that, with 18 different housing ministers since 1997, the UK had lacked a department “strong enough to articulate a coherent housing policy”.

It acknowledged that while some ministerial moves were “necessary or unavoidable”, it advised Mr Johnson to set an expectation that secretaries of state stayed in post for at least three years.

Frequent reshuffles should be avoided, the think tank said, while junior ministers should stay in post for at least two years.

Since 2015, the average secretary of state had remained in the post just under 18 months, according to the IfG.

Chancellors were among those to spend the most time in a post, the think tank said, lasting an average of four years at the helm of the Treasury.

But the resignation of Sajid Javid on Thursday means he is the shortest-serving Chancellor for 50 years.