Liz Truss likes arithmetical calculation. So here are some figures for her. Boris Johnson sacked ten Ministers from his Cabinets. Nine Ministers resigned from them. He appointed seven new Ministers to the present Cabinet last month. One hundred and eighty seven Conservative MPs either are or have been Ministers. What does this add up to?
The Prime-Minister-to-be, for so we must think of her, might quibble with my numbers. She would certainly point out that adding them up makes no sense, since to do would involve double-counting. But my purpose is less mathematical than illustrative. For as far as Truss’s new Government will be concerned, those figures will add up to a big problem.
There are never enough Ministerial places for those who want them, and reshuffles invariably end in more more pain than gain. Those promoted are never as grateful as those dismissed are angry (and in some cases the former aren’t grateful at all).
This is a daunting problem for Conservative leaders at the best of times. Which these are not. I’d be surprised if the number of Ministers in the Parliamentary Party, past and present, doesn’t constitute some kind of record. And I haven’t counted the Parliamentary Private Secretaries.
Truss must get her reshuffle right in the wake of the ousting of her predecessor by the MPs she will lead, having won fewer votes in the Parliamentary stage of the election to replace him than Rishi Sunak – and a smaller proportion of Tory MPs’ votes than any Conservative leader since the present leadership election system was introduced.
The conventional advice to her would be: appoint a Cabinet and Government that reflects the balance of the Parliamentary Party. Do so on merit (which Boris Johnson didn’t). Go for experience. Create a Team of Rivals, Abraham Lincoln-style. Try to ensure as far as possible that there is a durable mix of left and right, north and south, men and women, minorities and majorities.
And sensible advice it is too, but there should be some exceptions. The first will be Truss’s economic team. She has fought and is winning this election on a new economic policy. The Ministers sent to the Treasury, Business and Trade especially must be fully signed up to it.
Some of what you read about Truss’s prospective appointments will be journalists rewriting each other’s copy. Only the leader-to-be and a few confidants will know her mind, and they are unlikely to leak (as opposed to brief). But I presume that since Kwasi Kwarteng wrote a bridging article about economic policy in last weekend’s Mail on Sunday that he will indeed be Chancellor.
The most senior Truss backers from the start are Therese Coffey, Simon Clarke, James Cleverly, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Iain Duncan Smith. To which can be added, from a bit later in July, David Jones, John Redwood, Ben Wallace and Jake Berry. I’m not counting Cabinet members who stood earlier in this contest themselves or who originally supported another candidate.
Clarke is not technically a Red Waller (bits of his seat have been Conservative in the past), but he looks like a good fit for Levelling Up or, perhaps, Business. Berry could go to the former. Were Rees-Mogg to keep his Government efficiency brief, he could move to the Treasury with it, perhaps working as Chief Secretary.
Any of these could go to Trade. If it’s true that Redwood will be called back to government and given an economic portfolio, the question will be whether to give our columnist a wide brief or a narrow one. If he gains broad responsibilites, his energy, brains and experience are so extensive that there is a risk of ending up with two Chancellors.
But if he is given a narrow one – say small business or the City – Truss would arguably be wasting the man whose economic programme has been a blueprint for her own. The second exception to the rule will be the spine of key Ministers that runs through the Cabinet Office, CCHQ and the Chief Whip’s Office.
Therese Coffey is one of Truss’s closest allies, and it would be surprising not to see her in the Cabinet Office or Prime Minister’s Office, seeking to deliver the new Prime Minister’s priorities at the centre of government, or else as Chief Whip, tasked with keeping the Parliamentary Party orderly.
Another candidate for Chief Whip, if Truss wants an early supporter, is one of her numbers people from the Parliamentary stage of the contest: Graham Stuart, himself a former whip. If she is looking for a change of style and a woman Chief Whip who backed her from the start, there are a mass of female former or present whips among her supporters.
That leaves Cleverly, Jones and Duncan Smith from my original list. Cleverly has been Party Chairman. He is being written up as a possible Foreign Secretary. We read that Duncan Smith may return, in which case he could become Leader of the House or perhaps Party Chairman himself
Truss is a bit short of senior long marchers to fill these key strategic roles. She could turn to Brandon Lewis, who originally supported Nadhim Zahawi but has since taken the knee or, if she wants someone who is relatively popular with voters and whose own leadership ambitions have twice been unsuccessful, Sajid Javid.
For the non-economic and key management positions it should be a different story. Some are writing that it won’t be: that the Right of the Party will take the Foreign Office and the Home Office too. This would be a mistake. If the entire team of senior Sunak backers and One Nation types are on the backbenches they won’t be properly bound in to the new government.
Sunak himself may feel that his economic thinking is so different from Truss’s that he couldn’t even take a great office of state. So he may have been hinting yesterday. Ben Wallace should stay at Defence, which he fits like a glove. I’m told that Robert Buckland, who switched from Sunak to Truss, is likely to be rewarded pour encourager les autres.
Tom Tugendhat has never served as a Minister. Truss could give him the Security brief with the right to attend Cabinet and see how he gets on. Or if he thinks the Foreign Office would be too senior post for an ambitious and untested rival there is always that other Cabinet post with a security flavour: Northern Ireland.
That leaves Penny Mordaunt, Kemi Badenoch, Suella Braverman, Jeremy Hunt and Zahawi from the candidates who made the Parliamentary ballot. I won’t run through the permutations because there are too many to calculate, and nor will I get into the business of anticipating promotions, which would be unlikely to boost the chances of those named anyway.
My one suggestion would be to make the best use of Badenoch. She did well in both our survey and YouGov poll run-offs because Party members saw her as the candidate most likely to make the country more conservative.
I’d put her in Number Ten to mastermind a Tory approach to the equality/diversity/inclusion continuum – and crack down on woke in our public institutions. With Gove gone, someone else will have to lead the Governments’ thinking on the Union, unless it’s left to the territorial departments.
Don’t rule out Truss pulling something from left field – some new growth ministry or Ministerial team; some tinkering with where energy sits. But it’s unlikely: she’s committed to a programme for which most of the last Tory manifesto gives her no mandate. Making it work, getting on top of permanent crisis and grappling with the Commons numbers will keep her busy enough.