The philosopher and sociologist Jean Baudrillard famously claimed in a 1991 book that The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. Baudrillard wasn’t suggesting that Desert Storm literally did not occur. Rather, he proposed that, in both its battlefield prosecution and the mediation of events through CNN, the conflict was a simulacrum of a war, the work of ‘a gigantic apparatus of simulation’. In short, we saw the symbols and signifiers of war but not a war itself.
While postmodernism is not something to be encouraged, allow me to make a Baudrillardian claim of my own: The cabinet reshuffle did not take place. Consider the evidence. There weren’t any great comings or goings. No rivals were banished and no rising stars brought into the fold. The government wasn’t left any stronger or weaker. Policy is not changing and nor is strategy.
The only proof we have for a reshuffle is the reorganisation of a few government departments. The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is being dismembered and its limbs reattached elsewhere, in departments for energy security and net zero; business and trade; and science, innovation and technology. These are ‘new’ departments: they order nameplates and business cards but there will be no fresh ideas. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is also being counted as new because it has dropped ‘digital’ from its title. Another nameplate needed there.
We are asked to believe that organisational tinkering is a significant act, something that will meaningfully change how government functions. Nothing is going to change. Giving science, innovation and technology their own berth may seem like Whitehall has entered the 21st century, but placing science and research at the heart of government was an idea championed by Dominic Cummings and largely forgotten about once he left.