Is this the age of churn in UK politics?

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s cabinet reshuffle is the latest spin of an increasingly frenetic merry-go-round of the great offices of state since the Brexit referendum.

The churn rate of the four top positions in government has broadly tripled in the wake of the Brexit vote, compared with the period between 1979 and June 2016. Excluding incumbents at the time of the vote, there have been four prime ministers, six chancellors and foreign secretaries, and seven home secretaries since the referendum.

The average tenure for the positions of chancellor, foreign secretary and home secretary has fallen below 500 days since mid-2016. The constant churn in senior roles has stymied ministers’ ability to effectively master their brief and efficiently enact policies, according to some policy experts.

Priestly timeline showing who occupied the position of prime minister
Priestly timeline showing who occupied the position of Chancellor
Priestly timeline showing who occupied the position of home secretary
Priestly timeline showing who occupied the position of foreign secretary since 1998

The Institute for Government, a think-tank, has researched the tenure of ministerial roles and warned that accelerated chopping and changing has undermined the effectiveness of government.

Tim Durrant, IfG programme director, said regular turnover was “very damaging” and meant that ministers focused on “quick wins” rather than long-term policymaking. He noted, however, that several moves had involved senior politicians with significant experience.

There has also been churn within less senior ministerial roles. Sunak’s reshuffle meant the Conservatives are now on their 16th housing minister in the past 10 years with the appointment of Lee Rowley.

“It is extremely challenging to develop coherent long-term strategy if leadership changes so regularly,” said Charlie Hart, head of development consultancy at Knight Frank.

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