While NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine appeared to have his own mini-version earlier in the month, the newly appointed UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has similarly been accused of having a “Night of the Long Knives” purge of his cabinet in a “ruthless reshuffle” in which half of the previous cabinet were replaced.
The original “Night of the Long Knives” phrase refers the way Adolf Hitler removed most of his internal opponents in the Nazi party (Ernst Röhm et al) over a few days in the late June/early July of 1934. Several hundred were ex-judicially executed. While UK Prime Minister Harold MacMillan did not go as far as mass murder in June 1962, the phrase was re-used by the British press to describe his own mass ministerial purge.
In the latest version, Boris Johnson fired 11 cabinet members and six quit before they were pushed. He has appointed his brother, Jo Johnson as Minister of State for Business, Energy and Industry with specific responsibility for universities and science. In this brief, Jo will have overall charge of space policy within the UK, a post he has held before, but this time his wider role gives him Cabinet rank. This move is seen not just as pleasing his brother, but also as a measure of the increasing importance that the UK space industry and spaceflight applications have to the UK.
The previous “Minister for Space”, Chris Skidmore, had replaced Sam Gyimah who resigned earlier this year as he wanted another referendum over Brexit. By the way, Gyimah himself replaced Jo Johnson who resigned for similar reasons. This pro-referendum stance could put Jo at loggerheads with his brother Boris over Brexit again.
By the way, a majority of the UK Space Industry still does not want to leave the EU, even though they resent the way it has tried to take over the European Space Agency (ESA), and especially the European Commission blocking UK firms from working on security aspects of the Galileo navsat system.
In his first speech as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson specifically mentioned that the UK would develop its own equivalent navsat system.
“Let’s get going now on our own positioning, navigation, and timing satellites and Earth observation systems UK assets, orbiting space with all the long-term strategic and commercial benefits for this country,” said Johnson
This calmed the fears of some that the UK Government would not make up any EU spending shortfalls in space. At least they will have the Prime Minister’s brother on their side.
Postscript: It is sad to note that Penny Mordaunt has lost her job as Secretary of State for Defence to ex-British Army officer, Ben Wallace. While she got the job in possibly unfair circumstances (her predecessor Gavin Williamson was fired after being accused of releasing the secret view of Prime Minister Theresa May that Chinese telecoms firm Huawei should be allowed to bid for militarily sensitive 5G infrastructure work) by all accounts Ms Mordaunt, who has served in the Royal Navy as a reserve officer, did an excellent job in her 85-day tenure.
Still, perhaps we should give Boris Johnson a chance. We will watch carefully to see how much he supports the space industry and whether his delivery matches his promises.