Mini reshuffle: PM does a rejig in the big house


  • By Chris Mason
  • Political editor, BBC News


The prime minister had known for some time Amber de Botton was likely to go

There have been two reshuffles at the heart of government this week.

There was the front of house one, involving a new defence secretary, a new energy secretary and a new education minister.

You can read my take on that here.

But there has been another one too.

“A rejig in the big house” as one figure put it, to describe the changes among some of those who work most closely to the prime minister.

A person you have never heard of leaves a job you didn’t know they had.

Government officials often hate having to talk about what they dismiss as journalists’ obsession with what they label “processology.”

And yes, government organogram Kremlinology and what it means is a rather niche pursuit.

But Westminster is full of important and powerful jobs done by folk who are not public figures in themselves.

Their departure, or arrival, matter because they offer an insight into the priorities and tensions inside the most powerful building in the country.

And as Amber de Botton checks out of Downing Street, others are checking in.

To the new arrivals in a moment.

First, though, Amber De Botton arrived at Rishi Sunak’s side less than a year ago, bringing with her a particular knowledge of how television news works, after years at ITV and Sky News.

Unlike her successor, Nerissa Chesterfield, she hadn’t been alongside Mr Sunak through his rapid ups (super quick promotions) or calamitous downs (losing the leadership race to Liz Truss).

Nor did she arrive with experience within government.

And yet she leapfrogged Ms Chesterfield in the pecking order.

Steadying of the ship of state

The prime minister had known for some time she was likely to go, I’m told, and they had spoken face to face about it.

They spoke again just before she announced she was leaving.

There has been a gush of warm words, from the PM and others about her.

She can point to a steadying of the ship of state during her time, after the rolling chaos of the final months of Boris Johnson and the entire blink and you’ll miss it tenure of Liz Truss.

And personal reasons, unconnected to work, have contributed to her decision to go.

But others in government baulked at what they saw as a brusque manner.

“It wasn’t an appointment that clicked,” one figure claimed, suggesting her departure was “inevitable,” arguing she was insufficiently savvy about how government worked and not political enough.

General election looming

Another insider said they were “sad and disappointed” as “I really like her” but also pointed out we are approaching “a big P political time” with a general election getting ever closer.

And it is with that in mind that two new arrivals in Downing Street should be seen.

Jamie Njoku-Goodwin is no stranger to Westminster or the Conservative Party, having previously been a special adviser.

For the last few years he has been chief executive of UK Music, the voice of the domestic music industry.

Next week, he starts as No10’s director of strategy.

It will be his job to work out how to make the big picture case of what the prime minister and the government is all about – what motivates him and it, and what it hopes to achieve.

Or to put it more crudely: the party is miles and miles behind in the polls with plenty expecting them to lose the next election.

Is there a strategy to avoid that? It will be Mr Njoku-Goodwin’s job to try to find one.

Also part of the arriving ‘there’s an election soon’ cavalry, someone who’s worked in No10 before.

Adam Atashzai used to work for David Cameron, who describes him as “sharp and clever” in his memoirs.

Mr Atashzai helped prepare Mr Cameron for Prime Minister’s Questions, that most politically tribal moment of the Westminster week.

He’s back in the building too.

One of several changing faces and voices at the heart of government – around the cabinet table and deep inside No10 – as Rishi Sunak tries to work out how on earth to improve his political fortunes.

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