Boris Johnson has named Dominic Raab his Deputy Prime Minister – as consolation for sacking him as Foreign Secretary.
Mr Raab was moved to the important but less prestigious job of Justice Secretary, when the Prime Minister carried out his reshuffle last week.
Apparently, Mr Raab wasn’t happy. So he asked for the Deputy Prime Minister title too, to ensure the move looked more like a promotion.
But the truth is that Mr Raab won’t really be Mr Johnson’s deputy. That role falls to Michael Gove, the new Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary.
Mr Gove has been given a cross-government role leading the “levelling up” policy. And levelling up is the Prime Minister’s top priority after delivering Brexit and dealing with Covid, two issues which may have moved out of the spotlight by the time of the next general election.
Earlier this year, Mr Johnson appointed Leicestershire MP Neil O’Brien as his levelling up adviser. Mr O’Brien didn’t become a Government Minister – he simply reported directly to the Prime Minister, outside of the usual Whitehall structures.
Now, however, Mr O’Brien has been made a Minister in the Local Government Department, which means he reports to Michael Gove. This illustrates the fact that Mr Gove is very much in charge of the levelling up crusade.
And it’s a cross-government role. That means he will be sticking his nose into the work of other departments, such as the Department for Education, perhaps, or Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Given that levelling up is partly about spending money on infrastructure projects – rail stations, research facilities and more – he will need to be talking to the Chancellor too.
Boris Johnson’s critics say that nobody knows what levelling up means. That’s not entirely fair – the Prime Minister has explained it on many occasions. He says it is wrong that incomes, employment rates, life expectancy and qualification rates are much lower in some parts of the country than others, and the Government’s mission is to ensure everyone has equal opportunities, whichever part of the UK they happen to be born in.
Critics might question whether Mr Johnson really means all this. But he, and other Conservative MPs, do at the very least believe that they have to demonstrate progress if they are to retain the support of Midland and North voters at the next election.
It’s Mr Gove’s task to deliver that progress and, in doing so, to give Boris a second term in Number 10.