‘Just another distraction’: Some unconvinced by Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle following benefits cut

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Junior ministers were among the first to go in Boris Johnson’s broad cabinet reshuffle, but some view the move as a distraction intended to divert attention from a decision to cut benefits that were raised during the pandemic.

On Wednesday morning, the British prime minister reportedly set up office in the tearoom of the House of Commons and proceeded to invite his ministers for a chat.

The first casualty of the reshuffle was now-former education secretary, Gavin Williamson. He was soon followed by Robert Buckland, who was sacked as justice secretary.

While Buckland might have been a surprise, Williamson had been heavily criticized as education secretary, particularly over plans for students to return to school and university during the pandemic.

However, not everyone has been convinced by the reasoning behind the reshuffle. Radio presenter James O’Brien was among those to share their doubts. “The Universal Credit cut is, as Starmer has just managed to establish, indefensible. So Johnson didn’t even try to defend it. Next up, a reshuffle clearly timed to distract attention from the Universal Credit cut,” he wrote on Twitter. 

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Labour MP Dr. Rosena Allin-Khan concurred, claiming the move was “clearly” an attempt to distract people from the government’s plan to cut Universal Credit. On October 6, Britons who claim the benefit will see their claim drop by £20 ($27.66) a week. The government had raised the benefit for the duration of the pandemic. 

“Don’t let the #reshuffle distract you,” wrote the deputy leader of the Welsh Green Party, Lauren James, who claimed the Tories were attacking working-class people with a post-pandemic tax hike and the Universal Credit benefits cuts. 

Alistair Campbell, who was the spin-doctor of former PM Tony Blair, told people to turn off their phones and TV sets. “Today is now all about politics as showbiz for ugly people,” suggesting once again that it was a distraction. “Media happy. Johnson happy. Country f**ked.” 

Others were more jovial. One person even joked that Jim Hacker, a fictional British leader who rose from minister to prime minister in the TV series, Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, might be in for a big move. 

Hearing this guy is tipped for a big move in the reshuffle pic.twitter.com/uv65yALUgB

— Rob Corp (@RobertCorp) September 15, 2021

Some were keen to play down the importance of the reshuffle. One suggested that Sky News thought the same, tweeting: “Brutal of Sky News to go from its reshuffle coverage to an ad that begins: ‘Right now, terrible things are happening to donkeys.’” 

The shake-up of top ministerial roles comes after a tough month for the government, during which British troops and personnel were embarrassingly and chaotically withdrawn from Kabul, and newly announced tax rises and benefits cuts were deemed to hit the poorest in society.

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