The long-awaited reshuffle eventually took place. It is realistically Rishi Sunak’s last roll of the dice before he is forced to call a general election. Taken in isolation, I can see why some decisions and appointments were made, but I am far from convinced that all the pieces fit together.
Although I agree with much of Suella Braveman’s article in The Times last week, I felt that she could have expressed herself better. When she wrote that piece, she was not a bystander, nor was she employed as a columnist for a national newspaper. She was the Home Secretary - one of the most powerful politicians in the country.
But having read her resignation letter to the Prime Minister, it is clear that she did try to raise concerns internally, but they were dismissed by Sunak and his team at Number 10. Her letter was the most explosive I have read in recent years. Readers who are old enough to remember Sir Geoffrey Howe’s resignation statement in the House of Commons in 1990 may think, as I do, that Braverman’s letter was her ‘Howe moment.’
David Cameron has returned as Foreign Secretary - a move that no-one saw coming. I can see why Sunak has appointed him: as a former Prime Minister he is well known throughout the world and knows many of the leaders of friendly and hostile states. Sunak also has to look after the blue wall of Conservative seats in the south of England, and many Conservative voters in those seats will be reassured that Dave is back.
But the problem is this: Cameron did not make any headway in the red wall seats when he was leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. Labour majorities in those seats were gradually decreasing, and people like Ben Bradley and Lee Rowley did make breakthroughs in 2017, but that was because of their hard work, not because Cameron had somehow paved the way for them. Many voters are still angry with the Remain campaign that Cameron and George Osborne fronted in 2016.
They are also angry that as soon as he lost the referendum, he walked off the stage leaving someone else to do the heavy lifting. And we also shouldn’t forget that Cameron instructed civil servants not to prepare for a Leave victory. That was an utter dereliction of duty.
As for the rest of the reshuffle, the best description of it that I have heard is, “It’s rather like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic - after it had sunk.” Lots of unknown politicians were replaced by other unknown politicians.
Thérèse Coffey walked up Downing Street thinking that she was getting a new job, only to be fired and bundled out of the back door to save her blushes. She has been replaced by Steve Barclay who was moved from Health. It could be argued that both of them had failed in their respective jobs: Coffey didn’t get on top of the sewage problem and Barclay has presided over numerous strikes by doctors and nurses.
Barclay has been replaced by Victoria
Atkins, the MP for Louth and Horncastle. She has always felt that she should
have been fast-tracked into the Cabinet, but after eight years she has
eventually made it. But it has to be said that anyone who doesn’t follow
politics will not have a clue who any of them are.
When I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s, senior politicians were household names. They had gravitas. Whether or not you agreed with them, you respected them. The current crop of Cabinet ministers are not household names in their own households!
Will this reshuffle make any difference to the result of the next general election? That is the $64,000 question. I don’t think that the personnel changes will make any difference, but, to quote the late Donald Rumsfeld, there are many unknown knowns.
We know that if inflation continues to fall and the economy starts to grow, that will benefit Sunak. If the economy doesn’t start to grow, Sunak and the Conservative Party will lose votes. If the Government makes inroads in tackling legal and illegal immigration, Sunak will benefit. If those figures remain stubbornly high, the Conservative Party will lose votes in the red wall.
Although I think that Labour will win the next general election, I do not think that the Conservatives will be wiped out. Labour has to win around 140 seats to have a working majority. That is a tough ask. Anything above that would be icing on the cake. The Conservative Party wants to minimise its losses so that it is in a position to win in five years time.
But to win in five years time, it will have to be reasonably united. With all the splits inside the party at the moment, I can’t see that happening. But by then, Rishi Sunak will have been enjoying life in Silicon Valley and his name will be barely mentioned.