At risk of sounding like Danny Finkelstein - not that there's anything wrong with that - the key to understanding the Cabinet reshuffle lies in what's happened to Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool. The club hoped that the new manager would improve their fortunes, and yet the team's prospects seem as poor as a few months ago.This corroborates evidence from Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, which shows that changing managers does not generally improve teams' performance.
If cabinet ministers are anything like football managers or equity analysts, therefore, reshuffles don't lead to better government.
There's a reason for this. Organizational capital often matters more than individual talent. Some nice evidence for this comes from a study of heart surgeons by Robert Huckman and Gary Pisano. They found (pdf) that the quality of a surgeon's work improves with experience at the same hospital, but does not improve with his experience at other hospitals. This suggests that a surgeon's skills are not portable across hospitals but are instead embedded in his relationships with colleagues and specific hospitals.
Herein lies Mr Rodgers' problem. His efforts to turn Liverpool around are constrained by the club's organization and (recent) history.
This almost certainly applies to cabinet ministers. For example, new Justice Secretary Chris Grayling might want to bang up more offenders, but he'll be constrained by the lack of prison space, sentencing guidelines and the pesky rule of law.
What's more, the very facts that ministers lack management experience and are so often reshuffled (pdf) makes it likely that they'll "go native" and conform to the wishes of Sir Humphreys. So again, organizational capital dominates individual agency.Whether this is a good or bad thing is a separate issue.
This raises the question: if there are powerful counterweights to the ability of reshuffles to improve the quality of government, why do them? The answer, I suspect, has more to do with party discipline than ministerial effectiveness. Reshuffles give backbenchers and junior ministers the hope of advancement, which encourages them to toe the party line.
Beyond this function, however, it's not clear that reshuffles generally much matter. Obsessing over which particular minister is up or down is like watching a soap opera in which everyone is Ken Barlow and nobody is Michelle Connor - which is pretty pointless.