The UK government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson was being reconstructed via a cabinet reshuffle in February. While many of the moves had been telegraphed previously – mainly to the Daily Telegraph (the main Conservative broadsheet newspaper) – other newspapers noted that Johnson (and his main adviser Dominic Cummings) had used this as an opportunity to rid the government of “dissenters” – those who would argued against the Prime Minister within Cabinet.
The hirings and firings included yet another change in the revolving door that is the Minister of Universities of Science, a that is the “cabinet attendee” rank who is also the Minister for Space. Chris Skidmore was sacked from this role, less for his trouble making, but more because he was not thought to be dynamic enough. At least, Skidmore, now has time to spend with a new addition to his family, his new baby.
Nevertheless, there is embarrassment that yet another space minister has departed stage left after such a short period in charge. This will be the fifth change in less than three years. Chris Skidmore replaced Sam Gyiamah who resigned from his previous short lived engagement over Brexit. He, in turn, replaced Jo Johnson – the prime Minister’s brother who also resigned over Brexit. He had previously replaced Chris Skidmore (his first time around) who previously replaced Jo Johnson (on his first time around) who was moved to another department.
Update on 19 February 2020: After Chris Skidmore’s departure the Universities and Science brief has been split. Michelle Donelan gets Universities role, while Amanda Solloway becomes Minister of Science (and Space) in the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The other ministerial changes seemed, at first, to be less dramatic. That was, until the shock announcement that Sajid Javid, the Chancellor of Exchequer – the main finance minister in charge of government funds, had resigned after refusing to remove his advisers. Javid indicated in his resignation letter that he was resigning because no-one could accept the conditions being imposed on him. In effect he resigned because he did not want to be a “Yes-man”. Nevertheless, even though he will be accused of being one, Rishi Sunak – Javid’s No.2, seemed happy to take his place.
Dominic Cummings is said to have been behind the initial move against Javid as he attempted to take control of the government’s financial policy. However, Javid’s departure suited him just as well. A win-win game theory strategy you could say.
Comment by David Todd: Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his adviser Dominic Cummings need to be reminded of the “group think” hazard of surrounding yourself with “Yes-men” and “Yes-women” which the fabled “Emperor with no clothes” found out for himself. For example, there are now major fears that the government deficit may again get out of control if all the apparent spending pledges are met at the same time as promised tax cuts are made. By the way, it was the now departed Sajid Javid who pointed this danger out.
Noted space fan, Dominic Cummings, who is described as both an intellectual and very Machiavellian in nature, is a man who also wants to challenge the the orthodox views prevalent in politics and the civil service. His strategy to do this is said to be inspired by how NASA’s Apollo plan was designed, under the leadership of George Mueller, to have the minimum of bureaucracy albeit with some calculated risk taking. Cummings also notes on his own blog that he is inspired by the former air force officer and strategist, John Boyd, who is both famous for promoting his Energy-manoeuvrability theory on fighter aircraft design (which directly resulted in the very successful F-16 fighter jet), and for his “left hook” ground war strategy in Gulf War I which was very successfully implemented by the overall campaign commander General Norman Schwarzkopf.
While challenging the current orthodox theory is sometimes the right thing to do as it is not always correct – just ask Galileo – nevertheless orthodox theory and practice will usually be right. This is because the “received wisdom” in policy making has usually been derived from decades and even centuries of government and civil service experience, they having already tried out most of alternatives and found them to be wanting.
In many ways, Cummings has chosen the right strategists to follow. However, by following the lead of Mueller and Boyd in challenging current received wisdoms and in cutting through frustrating red tape, Cummings has already been accused of chain-of-command short-circuiting and even bullying behaviour. This method of working is not only unpleasant to others, Cummings’ underlying new theories behind may actually be wrong themselves, or will be proven to be in the longer term. For example, even John Boyd found that later improvements in air-to-air missile and radar technology somewhat usurped his original agile lightweight aircraft design thesis. Mind you, even Boyd said that you have to have a re-evaluation loop.
In doing pursuing this type of government by diktat, Cummings, and his boss, Boris Johnson, appear to believe that the “end justifies the means”, whatever the risk, and whatever the cost. Such disregard to proper parliamentary procedure and the constitution has other dangers, not least to democracy, and to the long term rights of us all. Johnson and Cummings were thus widely opposed over their illegal attempt to suspend (prorogue) parliament to counter the admittedly frustrating Brexit delaying tactics of some parliamentarians. Likewise, having done away with internal scrutiny, Johnson’s and his government’s subsequent unwillingness to face proper media scrutiny has also caused him much criticism.
Nevertheless, Johnson’s and Cummings’ Brexit strategy, combined with the poor tactics and leadership of the opposition parties, resulted in the Johnson-led Conservative administration being returned to power after winning the General Election with a large majority.
We can only hope that they use this advantage both wisely and kindly, and that most of all, their policies are the right thing to do.
Post Script: Dominic Cummings is not getting everything his way. After being overruled over building of the new HS2 railway line (it is going ahead despite its £100 billion plus cost) he has now lost one of his own newly appointed aides, Andrew Sabisky. Sabisky lost his job over his past white supremacist internet postings over racial differences in IQ without noting scientific opinion that genetic links are not primarily responsible, and over his pro-Eugenics stance. We recommend that Sabisky watches the movie Hidden Figures (2016). Here is this writer’s review: https://www.seradata.com/review-hidden-figures-fires-fitting-nasa-rocket-at-white-supremacists/