Government reshuffle: Ministers warned over ‘showboating’ as shake-up looms

In what’s likely to be a crowded field, the Mail on Sunday fired out a strong competitor for the ‘Ironic Political Statement of the Year Award’.

Citing the words of an anonymous Number 10 source commenting on the looming cabinet reshuffle, the paper wrote “the remarks show that Boris Johnson is keen to end the cult of celebrity politicians”.

Now, anyone who’s a fan of the BBC comedy quiz show ‘Have I Got News For You’ will tell you the current prime minister is arguably a pioneer in the genre of ‘celebrity politician’.

But now, it seems, the fun must end.

“We’ve been impressed by members of the cabinet and junior ministers who have quietly got on with driving real change within their departments and delivering on the PM’s priority to level up our country”, says the Downing Street source.

It was interpreted by the papers as a warning to ministers to stop “showboating” in the media in a bid to improve their profile and cool off friendly relationships with correspondents.

The implicit threat being that the axe of the former journalist turned Tory MP that now occupies Number 10 could come down on their plumb ministerial jobs if they don’t hunker down and get on with some serious work.

It’s a similar ultimatum to the one that went out to spads – the special advisers that support ministers and frequently speak to journalists on their behalf – months ago.

So why the crackdown?

In part, this is about sending a message to the public that the government is getting on with their priorities and delivering on that now often-quoted promise of “levelling up” across the country.

But it’s also about control.

A newly emboldened and politically powerful Downing Street flexing its muscles over ministers and the media in a bid to sharpen their messaging and curb damaging leaks.

Indeed, the diktat to cool relations with journalists comes amid other signs of Number 10 turning the screws on the press.

Despite protestations from political reporters, the daily media briefings by the prime minister’s spokesman now takes place in a government building on Downing Street, behind a police-guarded gate, rather than in the more neutral Palace of Westminster.

Various broadcast outlets and programmes have also seen ministerial boycotts, with the harshest treatment doled out to the BBC and the Today Programme.

It won’t have escaped the attention of bosses at the corporation’s most hard-nosed morning news programme, that the prime minister chose its somewhat lighter-toned rival BBC Breakfast as the outlet for his only in-depth interview since the election.

None of this is surprising.

Mr Johnson’s controversial adviser Dominic Cummings has spoken in the past of his disdain for institutions like the Westminster lobby of political journalists.

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Now he is at the top of a government with the majority and the confidence to push through changes and enforce discipline.

None of this is new either.

Theresa May and her own contentious aides Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill attempted a similar stern overhaul of media relations in 2016 demanding oversight of more political interviews.

Once power had drained away from the former prime minister, her government began leaking like a sieve.

With a Commons majority of 80, that’s unlikely to happen to Mr Johnson anytime soon.

But many will note the irony of forces in Number 10 using anonymous briefings to journalists to push a message urging others to stop talking to reporters or leaking information.

Some may also wonder why Mr Johnson was allowed to use the media to boost his profile and carefully cultivate his own political personality while others must now stay silent.

Iron fists run on political power. When that ebbs away – as it inevitably always does – cracks begin to form, and the mettle of a government is really tested.

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