Another new minister for government’s digital agencies after Truss reshuffle

Written by Sam Trendall on 13 September 2022 in News
News

Brendan Clarke-Smith has been an MP since 2019 and has proven a strident media and online figure on issues such as his support for the former PM and criticism of the ‘woke agenda’

Credit: UK Parliament/CC BY 3.0

Key ministerial posts dedicated to digital technologies data have changed hands following the confirmation of Liz Truss as prime minister.

This includes another new minister taking on responsibility for oversight of the Government Digital Service and the Central Digital and Data Office: the 13th person to hold such a post in just over seven years.

Following Truss’s installation in Downing Street last week, a government reshuffle saw Brendan Clarke-Smith (pictured above) appointed to a role as parliamentary secretary at the Cabinet Office. He was previously minister for children and families at the Department for Education.

In his new role, he is a direct replacement for Heather Wheeler, who was in post for seven months.

Duties of the position include not just oversight of GDS and CDDO, but the wider use of digital and data across government, as well as shared services, and science, technology and innovation. The junior ministerial portfolio also includes Civil Service HR, and secondary legislation stemming from the Cabinet Office.


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Clarke-Smith has been an MP for three years, having been elected in 2019 as the first Conservative MP in 90 years to serve the Nottinghamshire constituency of Bassetlaw – which the Tories won following an 18,000-vote swing, the biggest of the election.

In his time in politics, the former teacher and local councillor has proven a voluble and sometimes outspoken media commentator, particularly in criticising so-called ‘woke’ attitudes or actions. 

He was critical of England footballers taking the knee, which he compared to their counterparts in the 1930s being asked to perform a Nazi salute when playing in Germany. He was also part of a collective of MPs – calling themselves representatives of the Common Sense Group – that jointly wrote to then-culture secretary Oliver Dowden in 2020 to express concerns about the work of the National Trust being potentially “coloured by cultural Marxist dogma, colloquially known as the ‘woke agenda’”.

Clarke-Smith has also previously courted controversy with a newspaper column stating that food banks – which he had previously claimed opponents used as a “political weapon” – had seen an increase in usage because they offered “something for nothing”. He also made headlines during an appearance on Channel 4 news earlier this year to discuss Boris Johnson’s premiership during which, when asked if was content to support a law-breaker in office, he replied: “I certainly am.”

In his new role as digital government minister, the member for Bassetlaw replaces another MP who is no stranger to controversial public remarks.

Indeed, during her time in post, Heather Wheeler’s biggest moment of national media exposure came not as a result of the new government-wide digital and data strategy she launched, but because of referring to Blackpool and Birmingham as “godawful” places during the event held to announce the plan.

Her replacement may, at least, take on his new duties with a greater set of tech credentials than his predecessor, who told PublicTechnology she considered herself “one up from a Luddite”.

Another minister from the Cabinet Office, Jacob Rees-Mogg, was also moved during the reshuffle; he previously held a post overseeing government reform, transformation and efficiency – duties which have now been taken on by Edward Argar, who has replaced Michael Argar as minister for the Cabinet Office. Rees-Mogg, meanwhile, has been promoted to secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy.

The new prime minister has appointed Michelle Donelan as secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport. She replaces Nadine Dorries.

Part of Donelan’s team at DCMS is Julia Lopez – who has returned to the department after a two-month absence. In July, she resigned from her post as minister for digital infrastructure and data, as part of the scores of government resignations that prompted the departure of former PM Boris Johnson.

She was swiftly replaced by Matt Warman – a switch that now appears to have directly reversed, with the latter no longer holding a ministerial post.

 

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology. He can be reached on sam.trendall@dodsgroup.com.

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