Theresa May must appoint a new Party Chairman sooner rather than later to get CCHQ firing on all cylinders. That suggests a wider reshuffle. Some want it early in January, arguing that she has room for manoeuvre in the wake of her EU deal, and might not have it later in the year. Others want to wait until May, countering that the best time in the political cycle to have one is after the local elections.
Certainly, longer-running Cabinet Ministers will have less cause to complain if they are allowed the best part of a year in post, rather than cut off after little more than six months. This will matter in a Commons with no majority. For this reason and others, the Prime Minister must proceed carefully. She cannot cull as many Ministers as she might wish to. She will not want to remove those only recently appointed. She must balance Remainer against Leaver, not reduce the number of women, have an eye to ethnic minority appointments, strive for regional balance in a predominately south-based party.
What follows is a mix of what we think is likely to happen (in terms of Ministers who are more likely to leave) and what we would like to happen (in terms of Ministers who should be appointed to replace them). It is less ambitious than we would like; but May has less scope than she needs. We start from the view that who gets what is less important what should happen. The Prime Minister needs to –
- Beef up Government preparations for Brexit – deal or no deal.
- Prioritise the biggest single issue in British politics: the delivery of more homes.
- Recharge Conservative social reform.
To these ends, she should appoint –
- Michael Gove as Chancellor: As we have argued before, the Treasury, which was in the forefront of the Remain campaign, has not come to terms with the referendum vote. It was an even bigger reverse than the collapse of the ERM in the 1990s or the move from Keynesianism during the 1980s. Gove has shown in three jobs – Education, Justice and now the Environment – that he can grip and galvanise a department. He should be sent to the Treasury to produce an economic plan for Britain’s post-Brexit future, based on the Canada-variant deal that May is likely to get, with a stress on higher productivity, tech, science and vocational education.
- Boris Johnson to a beefed-up Business department: The Foreign Secretary argued for precisely such a shift in his Party Conference speech and Daily Telegraph article setting out “my vision for a bold, thriving Britain”. So let him work with Gove to deliver it – rolling Transport together with infrastructure into a pumped-up Business department. This follows the logic of putting Brexit more in the hands of those who believe in it, gives Johnson a role attractive enough to winkle him painlessly out from a great office of state, builds on his Mayoral experience, and offers business the prospect of a big hitter in post.
- Philip Hammond to the Home Office: He has in some ways been unfairly treated by May, and has delivered a successful budget. But the Government needs a clear sense of Brexit direction, and an end to top-level briefing wars about it (not that all of these have been the Chancellor’s fault). Hammond cannot be returned to the Foreign Office so soon after leaving it. And sacking him would be both unnecessary and unwise. The Home Office is not an offer he could reasonably refuse. His priority there would be to produce a balanced migration policy for post-Brexit Britain based on a work permit system.
- Amber Rudd to the Foreign Office: As a natural diplomat with a strong presence, she should do well in the post. Rudd is more than capable of building the relationships with her equivalents abroad which is an essential part of the post – and is not, frankly, one of Johnson’s strong points. Her appointment should also buck up the morale of another demoralised department. Her Home Office counter-terror experience is a natural preparation for the post.
- Sajid Javid to become Secretary of State for Housing and Planning: Give the issue the political priority it requires. Move the Secretary of State into the Business department, working alongside Johnson as he plans infrastructure and transport. Get the local government part of his present job out of Javid’s hair, if that’s quite the right way of putting it. That way he can focus exclusively on delivering more homes – the political passion that gets him going.
- Liz Truss to Education. This is a throw of the dice. The Chief Secretary is spiky rather than smooth, likes an argument, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. But she has experience of the department, a background in public service reform, and is another northern-raised comprehensive-educated woman. She is a more natural fit for May’s vision of education reform than Justine Greening. And she has thought a lot about social mobility. The teaching unions wouldn’t like the move, which is perhaps a recommendation.
- Greg Clark to become Health Secretary. The toughest job in Cabinet. Healthcare is essentially a defensive brief for a Conservative Government, Tory health secretaries are usually disliked by much of the workforce, and there is no prospect of major structural reform. The brief is to avoid strikes and an “NHS crisis”, while keeping a grip on the system (and Simon Stevens) – plus tackling mental health. Clark is a progressive politician and a compassionate man. Health let it be.
- Jeremy Hunt to CCHQ. If Hunt can manage the biggest employer after the Indian railways – as the NHS is sometimes reported to be – he can surely manage the revitalising of CCHQ. He has carried off the former without an “NHS crisis” (closed wards mid-winter, ambulances stuck outside A & E, a headline deluge) for five long years in post. As one of the few Cabinet members with a serious business career, he has the brains to prepare CCHQ for the next election, and is an experienced media performer.
- Rory Stewart to become Environment Secretary: If Gove is to leave the department, May has to prove that the new animal-focused Tory environmental interest is for real. Appointing Stewart would confirm it in spades. He’s served in the department; has a countryside constituency to which he is devoted, and an ecological sense. Stewart ran second in this site’s members’ panel of Ministers to promote, and would be the first of ? new appointments round the Cabinet table that we would recommend.
- Anne Milton to Chief Whip: There is a good case for leaving the Whips Office alone. Julian Smith has only just been appointed, and losing one vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill isn’t the end of the world. But there is a sense that the Office needs calming down. Milton was a popular Deputy Chief Whip. She should arguably have got the top post in the office last time round. She has no discernable personal ambitions – a qualification. Let’s have the first Conservative woman Chief Whip.
- David Gauke to Leader of the House. The harsh truth is that May didn’t want to appoint a former leadership rival to the post in the first place. So Andrea Leadsom is unlikely to survive a shuffle. Gauke is popular with his colleagues (quietly defusing tensions over Universal Credit), effective in the Commons – having been sent in repeatedly at short notice, during his Treasury days, to deal with statements George Osborne wanted to avoid. Uncork the Gauke! He and Milton would be a strong team.
- Esther McVey to Culture. There was no sense whatsoever in enforcing the Whips’ Office vow of silence on a TV-experienced woman communicator who holds a northern seat. McVey was a senior Minister in the Cameron Government and the time has come for her to take the next step up. She is the third of our new top table recommendations, after Stewart and Milton.
- Karen Bradley to Work and Pensions. Bradley is a numbers person (she began her first Tory Conference speech as Culture Secretary by saying: “67 + 147 = 214”), so the pensions side of the brief should go swimmingly. It would be a natural fit for her. The work side, being people-focused, is a different challenge. Bradley deserves a chance to step up to it.
- Dominic Raab to Brexit Contingency, with a full seat in Cabinet, replacing the Transport brief. Raab was top of our panel’s Ministerial suggestions for Cabinet promotion. He is a serious Brexiteer who understands the importance of getting it right for post-transition. As with Stewart, the appointment would show that May is preparing for the future. Or she could simply bump up Steve Baker.
- Brandon Lewis to Local Government. He’s being pushed by Downing Street and CCHQ in the media, is clearly on the promotion trail, has served in the department before, and would be a natural fit.
- Julian Smith to Chief Secretary to the Treasury. He is on the verge of a formal Cabinet post in his present job and would retain the same status with this one.
- Alok Sharma to Immigration Minister, replacing Lewis’s right to attend Cabinet. This business-friendly Minister would have the big task of selling a work permits-based system to multicultural Britain.
Such a shuffle would leave David Davis, Liam Fox, Gavin Williamson, David Lidington, Penny Mordaunt, Natalie Evans, the three territorial Secretaries of State (David Mundell, Alun Cairns and James Brokenshire) and Jeremy Wright in place. We assume the survival in post of Damian Green.
McVey, Raab, Stewart, Lewis, Milton and Sharma would come in, the first four with full Cabinet status. Grayling, Greening, Leadsom and McLoughlin would go out; this would be easier to manage next summer. For those consumed by these things, that would mean the same number of women with full Cabinet status as now, and four of the six new appointments would be former Remainers. That might be held to offset the promotion of two dedicated Brexiteers to the economic departments.
There isn’t space, goodness knows, to get into the below-Cabinet-level appointments, other than make the common sense point that the Victoria Atkins’ and Kemi Badenochs and Rishi Sunaks and Mel Strides need to be put out and about on the media more. Jacob Rees-Mogg should be offered a Treasury post; we’re not sure he would be wise to accept it.
Finally and again, this isn’t the perfect reshuffle by any means. You will probably do better. But it does at least represent a plan and, for what it’s worth, would give the media some stories. And it is bold by the standard of reshuffles. So we sorrowfully conclude that we don’t believe for a moment that May will actually do it.