21 July 2014
The Prime Minister has spent four years earning a reputation for disliking reshuffles, apparently reckoning, not unreasonably, that Ministers perform better when they have experience, expertise and stability in their briefs. However, such compelling managerial logic has butted up against an equally unarguable electoral rationale, which demands that next May's General Election is led by a fresh, more female and non-toxic team.
Ministerial portfolios of relevance to publishing and the creative industries are collateral damage in this exercise. We can be sure that no-one in Downing Street stopped to ask if Viscount Younger should have been relieved of the IP brief as Baroness Neville-Rolfe stepped into the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. What difficulties the excellent Lord Younger may have experienced were all the result of a fastidious refusal on the part of his officials to engage in debate in their mis-guided zeal for copyright reform. If he has carried the can for this it is an injustice.
With over a decade working as Tesco's Director of Corporate affairs, the importance of branding and trade marks will be well known to the new Minister; Tesco's recent foray into the online content BlinkBox service also demonstrates an appreciation of good legal digital services. What seems most likely is that the ability of publishers and authors to earn revenue and rewards will not be lost on her.
Ed Vaizey remains at DCMS and thereby is one of a small clutch of Ministers who look likely to carry their bat through the life of the administration. He finally steps up to Minister of State level and returns to straddling the departmental divide between DCMS and BIS (a role he held at the start of the government until the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, ran into a spot of bother over anti-Murdoch comment made to Telegraph journalists posing as constituents prompting all digital policy to be transferred to DCMS).. This rare example of ministerial longevity shows precisely the value in having Ministers being the source of institutional knowledge in government. As cuts have whittled down the capacity of DCMS, it has been left to Vaizey, and a small number of equally well-versed officials, to carry forward the Coalition's agenda on the digital economy.
Around the corner in the Department for Education there is a sense of out with the old and in with the even older. Nick Gibb makes a return to DfE to replace Liz Truss who achieves her inevitable ascent to cabinet rank. Mr Gibb, like his former boss Michael Gove, is a strong advocate of well-curated educational resources, and has shown himself to be a fan of BookTrust.
At the top of the department, incoming Secretary of State Nicky Morgan is something of an unknown quantity in terms of education policy. At this stage of the cycle it is in any case highly unlikely that a new SOS would signify a radical change of direction, and as early press comment has revealed, Mrs Morgan's task is perhaps more to emolliate than emasculate the teaching unions. Whether it is possible to drive forward education reforms without being a political lightning rod is a question Morgan now has eight months to put to the test.
Finally, publishing has lost one of its best ministers in David Willetts. He is replaced as Universities and Science Minister by Greg Clark, the MP for Tunbridge Wells, and LSE PhD and Boston Consulting Group alumnus. Mr Willetts had been a strong advocate for a balanced and sustainable approach to open access and firmly adhered to the conclusions of the Finch Report that open access could not and should not be achieved at the expense of the UK's world-beating publishing sector. With the OA brief in the hands of a new official (following the very sad death of Ron Egginton) as well as a new Minister there is a possibility that those who opposed the settlement forged by the Finch Group will seek to reopen the debate.
Reshuffles are as much an occupational hazard for those who work to communicate with government as with the Ministers themselves. The period following their appointment typically follows a pattern of speedy congratulatory letter-writing and hastily convened "round tables" between the Minister and their new stakeholders where carefully nuanced language will be deployed to persuade them what policies to boost, which to ignore and which to drop like hot cakes. It is going to be a fun, if busy, summer!