Peter Bould is communications director of Policy North.
There is widespread speculation that Theresa May is set to reshuffle her Cabinet, in a bid to stamp her authority on the Government and create consensus in Whitehall as the Brexit talks intensify.
While much of the focus has fallen on the fate of Philip Hammond and Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister’s overhaul could, and should, stretch much further. With clear differences over the Government’s strategy in relation to Brexit, and ministers appearing to speak from multiple hymn sheets, May needs to exert her authority. She also needs to freshen up the face of the Conservative Party to win hearts and minds, just as David Cameron had to a decade ago.
History shows that divided governments don’t last long and voters punish them at the ballot box. Aside from briefings and manoeuvres, there is another striking dimension to the current Cabinet: the North has incredibly poor representation at the highest level of government. Of the current 28 Cabinet attendees, only Brexit Secretary David Davis holds a northern constituency – Haltemprice and Howden in the East Riding of Yorkshire. In fact, you’d have to go back more than 20 years for a time when fewer secretaries of state held northern constituencies.
At the recent Conservative Party conference, £400 million was earmarked for Northern Powerhouse projects, confirming that northern economic rebalancing remains one of the Government’s core missions. That’s why it’s time for the Prime Minister to correct the chronic shortage of north decision-makers in her Government.
Under David Cameron, senior members including William Hague and George Osborne were strong northern voices. In the Blair and Brown cabinets, there was no shortage of northern secretaries of state but their governments lacked an economic vision for the North, proving that representation alone is not enough.
We are not arguing that northern constituencies should be represented in the Cabinet simply to make up the numbers. The North voted overwhelmingly for Brexit and denied Theresa May a majority at this year’s election with a string of target seats in the North that failed to turn blue. Theresa May is leading a One Nation, Brexit government and the Conservatives need to make serious inroads into the North if they are ever to have a majority again. That means listening to the North.
And there are numerous rising stars to pick from.
In the North East, Anne-Marie Trevelyan has proved that she can get things moving, literally, with her A1 campaign in Berwick.
The newly-installed pensions minister, Hexham’s Guy Opperman, has already got the pensions industry onside.
In Yorkshire, Rishi Sunak has impressed since taking over from William Hague. With a successful business career behind him, he is one of the few MPs to have already articulated the post-Brexit opportunities for the North with his paper on Free Ports.
And in the North West, Seema Kennedy is a successful businesswoman, now championing small businesses in South Ribble.
May needs more of these people around her. They have the hunger and the ideas to energise the Government, support the Prime Minister and offer something new to the public.
The North deserves better representation around the Cabinet table so that the needs of businesses and constituents in the North can be heard at the highest level.
For many reasons, this is an opportunity which May must not miss.