Jo Johnson hasn’t had the best week. He’s spent most of it defending the decision to appoint Toby Young to the advisory board of the Office for Students – and was doing so yesterday afternoon, just hours before Young resigned. Now Johnson has been moved to the Transport department, and with an additional post as Minister for London.
This is the latest strange move in a strange reshuffle. Johnson set up the Office for Students and had been making headlines over his confrontations with university vice chancellors over pay and free speech. He was also the minister who took the legislation setting up the new Office for Students through Parliament. There didn’t seem to be any evidence that he wanted to move or that Number 10 was disappointed by his performance.
If Johnson is being blamed for the Toby Young fiasco, then this is rather strange too, given Theresa May decided to start her new year by defending the appointment on the Andrew Marr Show, a week after the row had broken. Downing Street may have made a mistake in not checking whether they could defend everything that Young had written and said, but they then decided to hunker down and weather the storm, only for him to resign anyway following the endorsement of both May and Johnson.
For a reshuffle that Downing Street started briefing in September, everything seems oddly ill-prepared. It’s almost as though Theresa May felt that she had to a do a reshuffle and is trying to move a lot of people for the sake of it. As I said yesterday, this is bad for government as moves cause upheaval, and if people are being moved for the sake of it, reshuffles also lead to an unnecessary loss of ministerial expertise.