Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
So it’s mid-day on Friday June 9th. The results are in and, they may not be quite give Theresa May the landslide she had hoped for, but she is back in Downing Street, and sitting down to form her new Cabinet.
Reshuffling a top team after barely eleven months poses several dilemmas. If you make too many changes, it indicates that you made some pretty dodgy decisions in the first place. If you make too few, you fail to take advantage of the fact that you’re never more powerful than when you have won an election.
But – but – is this the situation that the Prime Minister will find herself in? Let’s hope so, but there remains a nagging doubt that this clusterfuck of a campaign will ruin it all. Having said that, lest we forget, most people thought the Conservative campaign only two year ago was boring, unimaginative and uninspiring. They also thought that a clear win was impossible, and that a hung parliament was the best that could be hoped for. Instead, the party won a majority for the first time since 1992.
For our purposes here, let us agree that Theresa May won’t carry out a night of the long knives. After all, she did that back in July.
Let’s start at the top. I’m told Boris Johnson is paranoid that he will be sacked or moved. He surely has nothing to fear. I think he has performed relatively well, and it would surely be embarrassing for the Prime Minister to do anything other than keep him in situ.
I am less sure about Philip Hammond’s position. It’s clear he has had his issues with Number Ten, and he has certainly not sung from the same Brexit hymnsheet as the Prime Minister on occasion. He has been almost totally invisible during this campaign. His card is well and truly marked, but let’s remember that he and May go back a long way.
If he is to be brutally dispatched, the woman tipped to replace him is Amber Rudd. She has had a ‘good war’ and has successfully played herself into being mentioned as a successor to May when the time comes.
I’m taking for granted that both David Davis and Liam Fox will remain in post, although it is a little mystifying that the latter has been almost totally absent from this campaign. As a good media performer you’d have thought he’d have had a higher profile. Perhaps it’s to come in the last few days as Brexit takes centre stage.
Jeremy Hunt to move from Health is almost a given. He was never supposed to be reappointed to the job, but when Stephen Crabb decided to leave government, Hunt was told to put his NHS badge back on, and get on with it. He’s a good tip to replace Rudd at the Home Office if she becomes Chancellor, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he called it quits and decided to leave government. He’s got three small children and I just wonder if he might want a break. Stranger things have happened.
In terms of departures from the Cabinet, I’m told Sajid Javid has not impressed Number Ten, and may be facing an interview without coffee. Liz Truss, according to many of her colleagues, deserves the same fate, but a move to education may be what awaits her, with Justine Greening moving to health.
I think Brandon Lewis is a sure-fire certainty for promotion to the Cabinet, possibly to Justice. His Home Office experience would come in handy, and he’s a lawyer, and so would be seen as more acceptable than Liz Truss.
Dominic Raab is another name being mentioned for a ministerial recall. He may have to accept a year as Minister of State, but he’s an effective communicator, and could well make the full jump.
Michael Gove is also being tipped for a comeback. Despite having had bad personal relations with the Prime Minister in government, he is seen as having earned his passage back, and as being totally loyal. CCHQ have been offering him to broadcasters throughout the campaign and he’s performed well. It may be a little early for a return, but don’t rule it out. The only problem is where to slot him in. Back to Education just to annoy the NUT? I doubt it, but there would be something rather delicious about it.
Mark Harper is another refugee from the Cameron government who may well return to high office. He’s another one who could have been difficult, but has been conspicuously loyal. A possible successor to Javid or even Hunt.
A more radical shuffle might see Andrea Leadsom and Chris Grayling fearing for their positions, but surely May couldn’t be so ruthless as to say goodbye to her erstwhile leadership campaign manager, could she? I think we all know the answer to that one, but she would be well advised not to do it. Grayling loves the job at Transport, and is beginning to make a real impact.
Patrick McLoughlin may well have reached the end of the road, but I think David Lidington will survive, partly due to his popularity with his colleagues and opposition MPs. I’d be sorry to see Patrick go. He and I go back a long way. I remember passing him briefing notes during the Committee Stage of the Ports Bill in 1991. Twenty-six years ago!
I think there will be widespread changes in the lower ranks with the guiding light being that if a Minister of State has no chance of making cabinet, he or she should make way for someone who will. It’s striking when you look through the list of ministers of state how few you could actually imagine holding down a cabinet job.
Of course, the big question is whether John Hayes can survive yet another reshuffle!
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There may also be a Downing Street reshuffle as well. Iain Martin has written that he believes Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy should be fired, because they are “drunk on power”. I do not.
They are two of the most brilliant political minds of their generation, and have formed a formidable partnership. However, you can’t have two chiefs of staff. The decision the Prime Minister has to make is whether to let them both do what they are good at, or maintain the status quo.
If she does the former, she’ll make Hill Director of Communications (which she already is, in effect) and Timothy Head of Policy. She could then bring in someone else to take over the more traditional chief of staff role. I have no-one in particular in mind, but it needs to be someone with government experience, and a bit of a greybeard who commands respect, and doesn’t relish the media spotlight.
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On Thursday night at 10pm, I’ll be co-hosting LBC’s election night coverage with Shelagh Fogarty. We’lll be going through until 5am, when Nick Ferrari takes over. We stream the whole thing on Facebook Live, and provide something of an antidote to the BBC’s rather more staid coverage. Or at least we’ll try to.
We’re also allowed to be opinionated and the discussions are certainly quite robust at times. As well as politicians such as Gove, Emily Thornberry, Eric Pickles and various others, we’ll be joined by our resident psephologists, Gareth Knight and Rob Hayward, as well as Liam Halligan, the economics commentator. I hope you’ll join us for at least part of the night.
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This is my last column before polling day, so I suppose that I should try to make an educated prediction as to what will happen. My seat by seat predictions (which seem a long time ago now) added up to a majority of around 130. I still think that’s possible, but perhaps not probable.
I could adopt the YouGov approach of giving a range (they gave a range of 270-345 seats in their ridiculous recent survey), but that is a cop-out. My gut instinct is a majority of somewhere between 80 and 100, but I should perhaps stick to my original prediction of around 388-395 seats for the Tories, and around 165-70 seats for Labour. I still think a lot depends on turnout, and where the UKIP votes go, and what happens to the Liberal Democrat vote in Conservative-Labour marginals.
For these reasons and others, it’s almost impossible to make a reasoned prediction. All I know is that if there isn’t an increased Tory majority, that’s when things will start to get really interesting. And I mean, really interesting.
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A lot of you will have spent yesterday getting out the vote. I hope you fare rather better than I did in 2005 when, after the event, we discovered that someone in my campaign office had been printing off LibDem pledges for us to knock up, rather than our own.