There will presumably be a Cabinet reshuffle in the wake of the EU referendum. It is almost impossible to predict what that shuffle will look like if Britain votes Leave. It is easier to anticipate its shape, and to give a view on what should happen, if the country votes Remain – though much will depend on the margin by which this happens, if such is indeed the case.
What follows is an attempt to sketch the kind of Cabinet reshuffle that could best hold the Party together after an experience unprecedented of open strain and strife in recent times. It is worth setting out a few guiding principles in advance.
First, such a shuffle would take place against the backdrop not only of this fractious referendum campaign, but also against that of a Commons in which the Government has a formal majority of only 12. This means that David Cameron is not in a position to have a big clear-out, if that is what he really wants to effect.
Second, such a reshuffle must be fair to both the Remain and Leave camps. This doesn’t mean that Leave, in the event of a Remain win, would be entitled to a share of the seats equivalent to its support in the Parliamentary Party (i.e: about two in five of them), let alone among Party members as a whole (i.e: about three in five of them). But in these circumstances, Leave ought to get an uptick.
Third, this shuffle could see the Party through to the coming leadership contest – and is perhaps even likely to. It must thus be fair to the main likely contenders – George Osborne, Boris Johnson and Theresa May. This means that the Party Chairman should not be committed to any of them.
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With these three principles hopefully in mind, the Prime Minister is likely to have a good look at which members of the Cabinet entered the Commons when, and how long each has sat around the Cabinet table for.
Michael Fallon entered the Commons in 1983 (returning in 1997 after losing his seat in 1992). Patrick McLoughlin entered at a by-election in 1986; John Whittingdale in 1992, Philip Hammond and Oliver Letwin in 1997, Chris Grayling in 2001. Of those full members from more recent intakes, Jeremy Hunt has sat around the Cabinet table since 2010.
So have Theresa May ( who entered the Commons in 1997), George Osborne (2001) and Michael Gove (2005), but I am assuming that none of these will leave the Cabinet in such a shuffle.
Bearing all that in mind, here is the kind of reshuffle that might work.
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Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary: Michael Gove
Two in three of our Party member survey respondents agree with our view that Gove should become Deputy Prime Minister, de facto if not de jure. Indeed, he recently topped our future leader poll for the second month running. These results are a recognition of the pivotal position he now commands, since he holds both the affection of the Leave camp and the respect of the Remain one (retaining a good working relationship with George Osborne).
At any rate, he should take charge, post-election, of future policy planning. A lesson of the Coalition is that deputy prime ministers are unlikely to flourish without a departmental base. Gove should stay at Justice, where he breaking new ground: he also has a Prisons Bill in the coming Parliamentary session. But he should also take over part of Oliver Letwin’s role in Government, developing a wider Tory programme for social justice, along the lines of his Legatum speech and this site’s programme.
Letwin is the third most powerful minister in the Government, presiding over three key Cabinet committees, sitting on ten others – and on ten “implementation committees, too.” The pattern is that the Prime Minister decides he wants action on a topic, Letwin then edits the ideas produced in response, puts together a plan, and sees through its implementation.
Gove should chair at least the most senior of these committees (the Home Affairs Committee), thus taking over much of the first part of Letwin’s present role, and leave the latter to chase implementation. Cameron will not want to lose Letwin altogether. Letwin would presumably be willing to stay on, especially if he is promised a department to run in due course. I would move Robert Halfon from CCHQ, where his role is largely confined to spreading the message among local Associations, to assist Gove and feed his “Workers Party” ideas into the review.
Foreign Secretary: George Osborne
The positive case for moving the Chancellor to the Foreign Office is that he has long thought about and been fascinated by foreign affairs in their own right – all the way from 9/11 through the Iraq invasion and the Syrian war until now. He has excellent contacts in America, both Republican and Democrat. He has a longstanding interest in China. He has kept a beady eye on the Islamist extremism issue. He has coughed up the two per cent minimum for the defence budget. Such a move would raise the standing and self-confidence of the Foreign Office.
The negative case, if you like, is that it is time for a fresh pair of eyes at the Treasury. Osborne has achieved some remarkable things – helping to produce a recovery, thus showing up his critics, while slowing the growth in spending, trimming the public sector and creating a kind of small state interventionism – with his minimum wage and apprenticeships levy.
None the less, time is catching up with him, as it catches up with all Chancellors. He has breached his benefits cap, missed his borrowing target and may now miss his debt target. His concentration on politics rather than economics – to put it crudely – served the Party well during the run-up to 2015 (the Omnishambles Budget apart) and arguably before 2010 too. But a litany of recent retreats – on tax credits, PIP, Sunday trading, academies, and pensions reform – suggest that his command of events is fading. And the deficit is still running at about £90 billion or so.
It is true that moving him might wither some of his best ideas before they come to flower – such as the Northern Powerhouse, which still needs a lot of work done on it. But healing the Party, post-referendum, means widening its collective leadership. Moving Osborne to the Foreign Office would help to do that. Once in place, he could turn his mind to dealing with the consequences of the Remain vote he is working so ingeniously to obtain.
Chancellor of the Exchequer: Theresa May
May is now the longest-serving Home Secretary since the nineteenth century, and one has to move on, up or out sooner or later. She is possible leadership contender and the Prime Minister will presumably respect this. He is more likely to move her to the Foreign Office – she set out ideas for future EU policy in her recent pro-Remain but Euro-sceptic recent EU speech – than to the Treasury, given his spiky relationship with her, but a transfer to the latter is not impossible.
He might leave Osborne in place. Or even draft in Sajid Javid, who is having a rough time during this referendum campaign, and is doubtless due a reward. But May would be a better appointment right now. Conscientious, independent-minded and undeviatingly serious, she would bring that fresh pair of eyes to the Treasury and concentrate on getting the deficit down. That is perhaps what is needed at Number 11 most of all.
Home Secretary: Boris Johnson
The higher a percentage of the vote Leave gets, the better-placed Boris will be to demand a great office of state – though some of his friends hint that would accept Defence. Cameron will surely not send a Brexiteer to the Foreign Office, and nor is he likely to despatch the ex-Mayor to the Treasury. That leaves the Home Office. His critics will say that so freewheeling a figure should not be let anywhere near it. But Boris’s stint in London has exposed him to most of the issues it is responsible for.
He has dealt with policing. He has run up against immigration policy (on which has given contrasting views). The national security issue will not be a stranger to him, given his experience in London. Yes, sending the former Mayor to the Home Office would be a gamble, but it would not be an uncalculated one. All in all, it will be very hard to deny the Tory who now effectively leads the Leave campaign a very big promotion.
Party Chairman: Michael Fallon
If a reshuffle must be fair to the various leadership contenders, it follows that the Party Chairman must be neutral between them, and not be one himself. He or she must also be good on radio and TV, trusted by Party members, be a senior politician in his own right and ideally have at least some previous experience of CCHQ. Michael Fallon may be the most weathered member of Cabinet in terms of age as well as of intake, but he is one of the very few who meets all these criteria with flying colours.
He has been a Deputy Chairman of the Party, scores well in our monthly Cabinet League Tables (for a Remainer, anyway), and is pitch-perfect on TV and radio. Defence might be seen as the last post for this grand old stager, but he is just the man for such a last hoorah. Few would be better at steering the Party through a hazardous leadership contest, and giving CCHQ the smack of independence which Cameron’s appointment of Andrew Feldman denied it.
Defence Secretary: Theresa Villiers
Roy Mason, Francis Pym, Tom King, John Reid… There is a long history of Northern Ireland Secretaries becoming Defence Secretaries, with the occasional movement the other way. There is a natural link-up between the two posts, given the security focus of the Northern Ireland one. Villiers has had to deal with a fully-blown political crisis in the province – largely unreported on the mainland – and played a significant part in resolving it. The Prime Minister will not want to lose women Cabinet members without reason. Villiers and defence is now a good fit.
Northern Ireland Secretary: Liam Fox
It would be shrewd of Cameron to bring back one of the right-wing Brexiteers from the older intakes to help keep the peace. Fox is still a bit of a player and performing well in our future leader survey – indeed, topping it as recently as January. He has been careful to think aloud about preserving Party unity, doubtless intending his interventions to be noted by Downing Street. Pre-election, the Prime Minister attempted to send Fox abroad in a junior role. If he has a go at Cabinet level, and substitutes Northern Ireland for Sri Lanka, he might succeed.
Chief Whip: Chris Grayling
If the Chairman must be a Remainer – the Prime Minister would insist on this being so if he is to give up running CCHQ more or less directly – than the Chief Whip should be a Leaver. This would not only for reasons of balance but for those of effectiveness and even, as far as Cameron is concerned, self-preservation. As previously noted, some two in five Conservative MPs and two in three of Party members are pro-Brexit. Some of the former will be very sore if Remain wins. Downing Street might not care much about that. But the Government has a majority of only 12.
Grayling is already Leader of the Commons, in which capacity he works with the Whips and shapes what is happening in the House. He is the best-qualified of the senior Leavers to be Chief Whip, and Number Ten regards him as having behaved more constructively during the referendum campaign than some of his pro-Leave colleagues. He could build bridges to all sides. Grayling let it be.
Transport Secretary: Mark Harper
Patrick McLoughlin has done nothing whatsoever to deserve dismissal, but as a former Chief Whip knows the rules of the game – none better. He has had a fantastic run, is very loyal, and wouldn’t complain if moved out of Cabinet. Mark Harper would be entitled to move up to his department of his own, and is capable of turning his hand to almost anything. (He made an enterprising fist of the Coalition’s flawed plans to reform the Lords.) A move out of the Whips’ Office into Transport would work.
Leader of the House: Jeremy Hunt
Hunt recently became the longest-serving Health Secretary (that is, as a single department). While would be ungallant to chop the Health Secretary for diligently carrying out Cameron’s brief to pursue a Seven Day NHS, it would not be unfair to move him, since the Government and the junior doctors are crawling towards an accommodation. The Leader of the House has a subsidiary media role, and Hunt is a smooth performer. An alternative might be to send him to CCHQ and to have Fallon as Leader of the House instead.
Health Secretary: Amber Rudd
Rudd is part of Tribe Osborne and the Chancellor will want her promotion. Admittedly, the NHS may not quite be what either have in mind: is a fearful challenge for any politician. But if the Climate Change Secretary wants to take a step up the Cabinet ladder she will sooner or later have to take a post that puts her bang in the front line. The Lansley experience has clearly frightened Number Ten off any major radical reform to the system, so a genial, sharp and pleasant politician is required to keep the service calm and try change by stealth – a role that Rudd might fill well.
Climate Change Secretary: Andrea Leadsom
The Climate Change Department is, as it is sometimes known, “the Amber & Andrea show”. It has only two Commons Ministers and Leadsom must therefore take on a big slice of the donkey work. Her responsibilities include energy security, oil and gas policy, new nuclear, and international energy: in other words, bits of almost everything. Moving this bright Brexiteer up a rung would therefore help both raise the number of women in Cabinet and subject the department to minimim disturbance.
International Development Secretary: Nick Herbert
A decision to expand Heathrow is clearly coming down the line. This would place Justine Greening in an impossible position, given her Putney seat, and her leaving the Government would thus be best all-round. Since Cameron will remember that Remainers need their place in the sun – loyalty must be rewarded – one option would be to promote Anna Soubry. But Nick Herbert would be due recognition for his pro-Remain work, and has been doing a lot of thinking about international aid. He is able and his return to government is overdue.
Culture Secretary: Priti Patel
If Cabinet is to lose Philip Hammond, McLoughlin and Greening from the pro-Remain side it must probably also lose one of the five remaining Leave Ministers – Gove, Grayling, Villiers, Whittingdale and Patel. The oldest of them, in both intake and age terms, is Whittingdale, so moving him out is probably the least unfair outcome. Patel must surely move up in due course to run a department of her own, and there is no time like the very near future. An alternative would be finally to give Ed Vaizey, who knows the department backwards, the responsibility of running it.
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* Stephen Crabb, Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan and Liz Truss stay where they are, which since they are relatively recent appointments is exactly as it should be. So should David Mundell, Alun Cairns and the other Cabinet members.
* The number of pro-Leave Ministers rises slightly from the pre-Iain Duncan Smith resignation number of six to seven: Gove, Boris, Grayling, Villiers, Fox, Leadsom and Patel.
* The Cabinet loses Hammond, McLoughlin and Greening. Some would doubtless urge a bigger clear-out, but Cameron’s post-resignation room is limited.
* If Patel moves up to run a department of her own, that will leave a single Cabinet-attending space to fill. If the Prime Minister wanted to signal the political importance of Housing, he could give Brandon Lewis the right to attend. Or instead summon Nick Boles, or James Wharton, or Jo Johnson, or Penny Mordaunt, or George Freeman, or…
…And that’s the best I can do, assuming a Remain vote. But your worst may be better.
9am update: The Times claims today that the Prime Minister is set on a “Revenge Reshuffle”, with Leave supporters who in his view have behaved well during the campaign being rewarded while those who have behaved badly being demoted or dismissed.