So, the axe has finally fallen.

After several days of the rumour-mill turning at Westminster, Boris has reset his frontline team in a major reshuffle for what he hopes is a post-pandemic remainder of this Parliament. But that’s a big hope as the one thing we know about Covid 19 is its unnerving uncertainty.

No prizes will be awarded for those predicting that Gavin Williamson - dubbed a “prat” and an “idiot” by Labour - was first on the PM’s hit-list given his torrid time at the Department for Education.

Dubbed Private Pike from the Dad’s Army TV sitcom, his capacity for generating bad headlines was legendary.

The most recent howler - mixing up footballer Marcus Rashford and rugby player Maro Itoje - might have been the last straw, although I suspect that materialised some time ago with the exams fiasco in England. The people saddest to see him go will be Lobby journalists who were deeply grateful for the regular supply of Williamson gaffe stories.

Nadhim Zahawi, the Vaccines Minister, who has overseen the successful roll-out of vaccines, is rewarded with the job of Education Secretary in England; he will have a lot of bridges to rebuild.

It was also no great surprise to see Robert Jenrick dismissed as Housing Secretary given the negative headlines that followed him over the unlawful approval of a Tory donor’s housing development and his eyebrow-raising journeys during lockdown.

But it was probably the anger generated on the Tory backbenches over the Government’s planning reforms, which have not gone down well in leafy shire Conservative-held constituencies, that sealed his fate.


Liz Truss was named Foreign Secretary

Another sackee was the lesser-spotted Amanda Milling as party co-Chairman, who was seen before the announcement looking completely miserable in the Commons. Her departure comes just a fortnight or so before the Conservative autumn conference. She is replaced by Oliver Dowden, who was Culture Secretary and who also takes the title of Minister Without Portfolio at the Cabinet Office.

The Culture job has been handed, tentatively no doubt, to former Health Minister Nadine Dorries, a stauch Brexiteer, who has known a deal of controversy in her time in Parliament, having once during the Coalition years branded David Cameron and George Osborne “two arrogant posh boys who don’t know the price of milk,” having posted a deal of outspoken tweets, and who had the whip removed for appearing on “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here”. She was the first contestant to be voted out.

The fact that the much-attacked Home Secretary, Priti Patel, was sitting on the front bench a few feet away from Boris at PMQs this afternoon suggested she was safe; and she is. Her party leader has stood by her on a number of occasions; to get rid of her now would have seemed like her boss admitting his judgement had been wrong all along.

But a noticeable absentee on the frontbench at PMQs was one Dominic Raab, whose holidaying in Greece while Kabul fell to the Taliban proved fatal to his chances of staying in the Cabinet’s glamour job.

The harsh departure of Robert Buckland as Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor - he was never a Johnsonite - paved the way for Raab, a lawyer, to be demoted and shuffled into that role; the eighth Justice Secretary in just 10 years.

The fact he was not observed going into the private sacking session at the PM’s Commons office but was later seen walking slowly up Downing St indicated he had accepted another job.

The demotion is sweetened somewhat by the fact he has been given the title of Deputy Prime Minister. He technically held this role as the First Secretary of State – standing in for an absent Boris at PMQs – but this title has now been aggrandised; although attacking Keir Starmer for sacking and then showering Angela Rayner with job titles might now prove a bit harder for Boris to do.


Dominic Raab

This month, in a ConservativeHome poll of Tory Party members about ministers’ performances, Williamson was placed bottom on a rating of -53, Milling was on -16, Jenrick was just +1 and Raab +6. Interestingly, Buckland was on +50.

The minister at the top of that survey with a rating of +85 was Liz Truss, Oxford-born but educated as a child in Paisley, who is promoted from the Department of Trade to the Foreign Office, having impressed colleagues in the attempt to get post-Brexit trade deals.

Her move means two of the four great offices of state are now held by women. However, she is not the first female Foreign Secretary; Labour’s Margaret Beckett served a year in the role in the Blair Government.

Ms Truss’s job at Trade goes to Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who has been a Minister of State at the Business Department, and was previously in the Cabinet as International Development Secretary before her department was merged with the Foreign Office.

Yet if the ConservativeHome poll was in any way the yardstick Boris was using to determine his new Cabinet, then he probably would have had to sack himself as his rating was a mere +12.8, seventh from bottom.

Meanwhile, Michael Gove has moved from the Cabinet Office, where he was allegedly “bored,” to become the new Housing and Communities Secretary; his sixth Cabinet role.

His brief includes the Government’s central “levelling-up” agenda and, importantly perhaps, the Scot will retain his role as the PM’s point-man on the Union. But it must be noted that Mr Gove has again missed out on one of the grand offices of state. His replacement at the Cabinet Office is Treasury Minister Stephen Barclay.

As expected Rishi Sunak, tipped as Boris’s successor at some point, remains as Chancellor, and Ben Wallace continues as Defence Secretary, while Mark Spencer stays as Chief Whip.

Reshuffles often backfire as new ministers can make missteps as they try to get their heads around their new briefs.


Nadie Dorries

Also, the longer a PM is in office and chops and changes his or her top team, the more the backbenches begin to fill up with old friends and new enemies; very often the same people.

There will, as usual, be a lot of references from the Government’s opponents to the Titanic and deckchairs but Keir Starmer knows that, come the next General Election, while voters might not be enamoured by the thought of another Johnson term, the second part of the political equation has to be fulfilled; people have to believe Labour would do a better job and vote for them.

With at least two, if not three years to go, to the next UKwide poll, Sir Keir is a man in a hurry as he has a truly gigantic task to convince the electorate that he is the best person to sit behind the Downing St desk.

He can only hope Boris’s reshuffle will make his task a little easier.