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Grab the reshuffle chance with both hands

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The following was published by Central Lobby

Former Minister Meg Munn writes about the experience of junior ministers anxiously waiting for news on reshuffle day.

A junior minister observing a reshuffle doesn’t feel so much like being a pawn in a complicated game of chess as a jigsaw piece in a large puzzle where the Prime Minister has lost the box with the picture. After the new and reshuffled cabinet ministers have sashayed up Downing Street smiling coyly and the commentariat focus on the big message behind the changes, in countless offices and homes the lower orders wait to hear their fate.

Mobile phones mean there is no need to wait by the phone, but they can still cut out in one of the most important phone calls of a political life. An office in Norman Shaw North with thick walls was my undoing. As Tony Blair offered me my first ministerial post the phone went dead. The next five minutes entailed me ringing the number 10 switch board, being astonished when they actually believed I had just been talking to the Prime Minister, and then hanging out of the window to finish the conversation.

In the real world you apply for a job with something approximating the skills in the advert; not so appointments as junior minister. Political motivations inevitably come into play, advisors to the boss seek to promote their own favourites and the PM has old friends, supporters, and even enemies to accommodate. Giving someone the job who has an aptitude for it is not always top of the agenda; many a new culture minister can’t remember the last film they saw. More than one person expressed surprise when as a linguist I was made a Foreign Office minister, quite a novelty apparently. German turned out not to be very useful in the Caribbean or British Overseas Territories.

In 2007 Gordon Brown kindly told those at the start of the process who would lose their jobs, letting others know they would be staying put or move onto a new job later. Later for some meant the next day. The next morning came the attempt to bomb Glasgow airport and thus delay. As I waited in Westminster I got the call early afternoon saying the Prime Minister wanted to speak to me. By the time I was put through he was on another call. Hours passed, eventually I decided to head home. The call came as I sat on a packed train with nowhere quiet to go.

It’s not an ideal way to get the best team to run the country, but for the individual MP I’d say grab the chance with both hands, few get it. It may turn out to be the most amazing of your working life.


Meg Munn is MP for Sheffield Heeley. She was a Parliamentary Under-Secretary in 3 different Government departments.

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