We are near the end now:
The explanation to that eye-catching Leadsom appointment lies in the portfolio she will cover, I’m told. She is to be responsible for the Best Start in Life, a campaigning passion of hers familiar to this site’s readers (see here, of example).
8am Tuesday November 14
Here’s a slew of Minister of State and Under-Secretary of State appointments.
The one on which the eye most lingers is the return of Leadsom, a former holder of three Cabinet posts, to the lowest rung on the Ministerial ladder (if one exempts Parliamentary Private Secretaries).
A final appointment for today (at least before we stop blogging): Esther McVey has returned to government as a minister without portfolio at the Cabinet Office; she will attend Cabinet.
Given the lack of defined responsibilities and the general tilt of the rest of today’s appointments, this looks a lot like a balancing exercise to try and keep the right of the party on-side.
That’s all from us for today, thank you for reading.
The Prime Minister as found a successor for Maclean: Lee Rowley will take over the Housing brief, moving from his current post as minister for Local Government and Building Safety, also at DLUHC.
It was always unlikely that the new minister would be much of an enthusiast for building, given Sunak’s own apparent lack of interest in the problem, and indeed Rowley has previously been combative in taking on advocates for planning reform:
Sharing this clip because I want to articulate how misguided and distorted the current attitude to building is (all the main parties are bad at this).— Rachel Cunliffe (@RMCunliffe) September 26, 2023
Local residents upset about car parks and views hold all the power. The people who desperately need homes? Simply not counted. https://t.co/nI9olOG7Nw
Given that Sir Keir Starmer is talking about building on the Green Belt, perhaps the plan is simply to have a minister willing and able to attack that point of vulnerability.
Two more appointments in the last hour. First, John Glen has moved from the Treasury to the Cabinet Office, where he will now serve as Paymaster General (basically a minister without portfolio). Meanwhile Greg Hands, the outgoing Chairman, is now a Minister of State at the Department for Business and Trade.
Announcements seem to have dried up again; significantly, we’ve still had nothing on who will replace Maclean at the Housing portfolio.
Laura Trott has been appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury; she was first promoted to government, as Pensions Minister, by Sunak in 2022. She previously served as an adviser under Cameron; interestingly, given what an important issue it has developed into, she was reportedly credited with his government’s policy of tax-free childcare.
Like Holden, she’s a member of the class of 2019; the Prime Minister is reaching for very new hands, alongside very old hands, to stock his new Cabinet.
We have news! Steve Barclay has been appointed to the Department of the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, departing the Health portfolio, which he has held for just over a year.
Barclay backed Sunak for the leadership in 2022, so it isn’t surprising to see him securing a new role in what is shaping up to be a more loyalist cabinet.
It will also probably be a relief to be freed from responsibility for the NHS, with the annual winter crisis looming and the ongoing strikes. That burden now falls to Victoria Atkins, who replaces him at Health and Social Care.
Meanwhile Richard Holden has been confirmed as the new Chair of the Party, replacing Greg Hands. He represents North West Durham, a Red Wall seat – an important strategic choice by the Prime Minister, given the need to deploy resources defensively in what will be an extremely difficult election next year.
All still quiet on the Downing Street front, but an interesting follow-up to that observation about Maclean: Steven Swinford, the Times‘ political editor, reports that Sunak is struggling to find anyone to replace her:
Hearing Number 10 is struggling to find a new housing minister— Steven Swinford (@Steven_Swinford) November 13, 2023
Several people, including Jeremy Quin, are said to have turned it down
Comes after Kemi Badenoch and Michael Gove appeared to express unhappiness over removal of Rachel Maclean from role
Henry Hill reporting
We’re still waiting for more news to come out of Downing Street. In the meantime, a quick note about Maclean’s dismissal.
During one of ConservativeHome’s panel events at party conference, I asked what I thought was a cheeky question, of a minister: was the housing crisis so serious that the Government should revisit the question of full-fat planning reform? I was rather surprised that her answer was yes – it seemed unlikely that Downing Street would have been keen on the answer.
We don’t yet know why the Prime Minister thought the country needed its sixteenth housing minister in thirteen years, but if she was freelancing, such attitudes could plausibly have been a factor. (You can watch the event on our YouTube channel, question is 24 minutes in.)
Meanwhile, the Institute for Government points out that Coffey’s departure leaves Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, the only member of the Cabinet who has served continuously since the 2019 election.
Jeremy Quin has joined the queue of Ministers leaving Government – a blow to Number Ten, given his co-ordinating role in the Cabinet Office. One take on the departures is that those looking for jobs outside must leave now to clear the ACOBA hurdle if the general election takes place next May. Laura Trott, also tipped for promotion, is in Downing Street.
Coffey tweets that she has “written to the Prime Minister today to step down from government”. Her entry through the front door earlier is consistent with her having been offered another job and then refused it – but we shall see. Richard Holden, a Sunak loyalist, has entered Downing Street. So has Victoria Atkins, long tipped for promotion.
No reshuffle news for over an hour. Therese Coffey, tipped for dismissal, went in to Downing Street over two hours ago through the front door – not the usual route for those. Looks to me as though the shuffle may have run into a problem. Steve Barclay is now reported to have entered Downing Street through the front door.
Elsewhere, Jason Groves of the Daily Mail suggests that Sunak wanted his predecessor as Richmond’s MP, William Hague, as Foreign Secretary – but that Hague smoothed the way for Cameron to take the post instead.
And Rachel Maclean tweets: “I’ve been asked to step down from my role as Housing Minister. Disappointed and was looking forward to introducing the Renters Reform Bill to Committee tomorrow and later the Leasehold and Freehold Bill. It has been a privilege to hold the position and I wish my successor well.” That’s 16 housing ministers since 2010 and seven in the last two years.
We have a Cameron statement.
“The Prime Minister has asked me to serve as his Foreign Secretary and I have gladly accepted.
We are facing a daunting set of international challenges, including the war in Ukraine and the crisis in the Middle East. At this time of profound global change, it has rarely been more important for this country to stand by our allies, strengthen our partnerships and make sure our voice is heard.
While I have been out of front-line politics for the last seven years, I hope that my experience – as Conservative Leader for eleven years and Prime Minister for six – will assist me in helping the Prime Minister to meet these vital challenges.
Britain is a truly international country. Our people live all over the world and our businesses trade in every corner of the globe. Working to help ensure stability and security on the global stage is both essential and squarely in our national interest. International security is vital for our domestic security.
Though I may have disagreed with some individual decisions, it is clear to me that Rishi Sunak is a strong and capable Prime Minister, who is showing exemplary leadership at a difficult time. I want to help him to deliver the security and prosperity our country needs and be part of the strongest possible team that serves the United Kingdom and that can be presented to the country when the General Election is held.
I believe in public service. That is what first motivated me to get involved in politics in the 1980s, to work in government in the 1990s, become a Member of Parliament in the 2000s and put myself forward as Party Leader and Prime Minister.
The UK’s Foreign Office, our Diplomatic Service, our Intelligence Services and our Aid and Development capabilities are some of the finest assets of their kind anywhere in the world. I know from my time in office that they are staffed by brilliant, patriotic and hard-working people. They have been well led by James Cleverly, with whom I look forward to working in his vital new role. It will be an honour to serve our country alongside our dedicated FCDO staff and provide the continued leadership and support that they deserve.”
And no reshuffle news for the best part of an hour. Am wondering whether Sunak’s plans have hit a snag.
Sunak appears to be pausing the shuffle in order to allow the impact of Braverman’s dismissal and Cameron’s return to sink in. It’s fair to say that, if Twitter is a reliable guide, the Tory right is angry, the Tory left delighted, nostalgists of a certain era pleased – and others maintaining that it will all make no difference at all to most voters.
My take yesterday was that “Sunak is evidently reluctant to undertake a reshuffle, which he has repeatedly postponed. A minority of Conservative MPs strongly support Braverman. A majority are unhappy with the polls and their prospects. The Tory Conference failed to change public perceptions of the Prime Minister. The Autumn Statement is unlikely to succeed where it failed. Time is running out for the Government.”
“Knock a brick from this imperilled building, and it will shake: sacking Braverman would provoke letters to Sir Graham Brady.” We’ll soon see whether that was right or not – and if so how many letters dissenters can muster. And we will doubtless learn in due course whether Cameron’s return was first mooted inside Number Ten or/and whether he lobbied for it himself.
The pause in appointments gives an opportunity to note, first, that Jeremy Hunt stays in post – and that since he has survived this shuffle he may well now last until the election; second, that we can expect a lot of change today, as Ministers stand down to concentrate on defending their seats, or else to prepare for retiring from the Commons altogether and, third, that among those tipped to leave the Government are Steve Barclay and Therese Coffey. But we will see.
Among those leaving at below Cabinet level are Nick Gibb, the Minister who, over the last 13 years, has delivered more reform than any other single Minister, and our former columnist Neil O’Brien, who wants to “concentrate 100 per cent on constituency work”, and Will Quince, who is standing down from his Colchester seat at the next election. (So if Barclay goes, it’s all change, pretty much, at the Department of Health.) Jesse Norman is also off. Changing of the guard.
Meanwhile, over the Spectator, James Heale notes that there are now no women in the top four posts of Government. “The Clarendon Cabinet,” he tweets. “A Wykehamist as Prime Minister, an Etonian as Foreign Secretary and a Carthusian as Chancellor.”
The Prime Minister wants a Home Secretary who can measure up to the present challenge, grip the Home Office, get on with the civil service, communicate in an easy and relaxed way, and will charm police officers while also delivering for Downing Street – not least on small boats when the Supreme Court’s Rwanda judgement comes on Wednesday. And who won’t rock Number 10’s own craft, unlike his fissile predecessor.
Cleverly, who topped last month’s ConservativeHome Cabinet Table, is an obvious choice to fit these criteria. He will know that the Home Office, with its border, law and order and policing challenges, is a graveyard of political ambition. But the new Home Secretary is nothing if not a trouper, and must now grapple with Rwanda, disorder on the streets, law and order and the Government’s new anti-extremism measures, as widely trailed this morning.
Sunak entered Parliament when Cameron was the Conservative leader. The Government and Downing Street is packed by former Cameron-era Ministers and staffers. The Prime Minister wants a Foreign Secretary big enough to fit the present crisis – who understands the issues, has contacts abroad, is pro-Israel while also being Palestine-sensitive, is tough on Islamist extremism, and will be a model of loyalty. And he wants this reshuffle to be about more than Braverman, so moving the political dial.
Cameron, meanwhile, is not exactly busy elsewhere, from one point of view; and has a public service ethos that still burns bright, from another. At 57, he is in his prime. Whatever your view of his leadership, premiership and the EU referendum, he is a politician of exceptionally high quality.
The case for his appointment is that Sunak is short of talent to draw on, and that Cameron will serve the Government and his country with distinction, seniority and ability. The case against is that the Prime Minister is reopening old Brexit wounds and China policy rows, alienating the present crop of Tory MPs, re-raising the Greensill saga, marginalising the Foreign Office in the Commons (since Cameron will go the the Lords), and bringing back to Government a politician who is seen by voters to have failed, and whose popularity ratings among them is low.
Either way, Cameron’s return will be written up, rightly or wrongly, as a government shift to the left. Parts of the Conservative family will boo. Other bits will cheer – and argue that the move will help to define the Prime Minister as representing change from the Boris Johnson and Liz Truss era. All a bit of an about-turn from Sunak’s Tory conference speech repudiation of “the last 30 years”.
Paul Goodman reporting
So Rishi Sunak has concluded that collective responsibility must prevail, Suella Braverman is a repeat offender against it, and that – crucially – her support among Conservative MPs is insignificant. From the point of view of keeping her job, last week’s Times article seems to have sealed her fate. I suspect that her replacement will be James Cleverly, as correctly forecast by Sam Coates of Sky News yesterday.
And there is a sensational twist to events: it appears that David Cameron, who is in Downing Street as I write, is about to become the new Foreign Secretary.
The Prime Minister will be keen to twin Braverman’s sacking with an extremism crackdown – and so seek to persuade his party and voters that the change is based not on policy differences but on governmental cohesion and party discipline.
Braverman’s sacking, Cleverly’s appointment and Cameron’s return is part of a wider reshuffle. It nearly happened during the summer before recess. It could then have taken place before the Conservative Conference. It was then expected in the New Year. I doubt it would be happening today were Braverman’s dismissal not taking place. So a key element to watch for is whether Downing Street is truly prepared for a shuffle and whether the changes have been thought through.