ConservativeHome was prescient in keeping Nicky Morgan in our monthly leadership poll when we culled it post-election. For she has become the first Cabinet Minister to declare that she wants to follow David Cameron. Her aspiration and next week’s Party Conference provide an opportunity to have a look at the Cabinet as a whole – who’s up, down and likely to be out.
Up, up and away
- Michael Gove: Will he quit Cabinet, if necessary, to campaign to leave the EU – thus irritating the Prime Minister, who demoted him during the last Parliament? Or will he stay to support the drive to remain? (If so, he will be assassinated by Dominic Cummings, his former Special Adviser and now a leading light at Business for Britain.) Is he in heaven, is he in hell, that damned, elusive Pimpernel? But either way, and notwithstanding these hazards, Gove has the brains and energy to stay near the top of the Tory Party for more or less as long as he likes.
- Robert Halfon: The representative of the Workers’ Party is due, when his term at CCHQ is over, for a move up to middle management.
- Sajid Javid: Unless discovered to be paid by Putin or in bed with a warthog – or vice-versa – it is almost impossible to imagine the Business Secretary going anywhere but up. George Osborne’s former PPS will have to decide, in due course, whether or not to run against him for the leadership and, rather sooner, where he stands on Britain’s EU membership. If he is not Prime Minister by 2020, one can see this numerate ex-banker as Chancellor in an Osborne government.
- Theresa May: In generational terms, the Home Secretary is an oldie, having entered the Commons in 1997. In political terms, though, she is evergreen. Osborne, if he succeeds Cameron, might well seek to demote her out of the top three posts – perhaps to Defence. But she will surely stand against him in the contest to come, and he will presumably want to keep her on board if he defeats her. She might not want to stay on in such circumstances, but she would probably have the option – and can thus stay in the Cabinet until 2020 if she wants to.
- Nicky Morgan: She will have endeared herself to neither George Voldemort nor Theresa May by declaring her leadership aspirations, and is thus in peril of disqualifying herself from this category. All in all, she is an unlikely successor to the Prime Minister, but as an emerging voice on the Centre-Left of the Party will probably stay on after his departure. He might send her to, say, Health before then, where she would be under strict instruction to follow Jeremy “The Anesthetist” Hunt in sedating the service, thus keeping it out of the news.
- Priti Patel: She is an outside bet for the leadership herself – less eligible as a candidate than Morgan only because she does not head a department – and, as a former member of both tickets for the 1922 Committee Executive, has a proven track record in winning the support of her colleagues. Iain Dale dislikes her remorselessly on-message style, but I rather admire the way in which, as a ConservativeHome columnist, she refused to allow the words “Liberal Democrats” or “UKIP” to pass her pen. What, though, will she do in the EU referendum?
- Anna Soubry: There are many able women in the Party; there are few who are so evidently of its Left. Soubry has views, is punchy on television, and unwilling simply to trot out the line to take. She is disliked by some on the Right and the feeling is mutual. But she is likely in due course to be appointed to run a department; because she will never play the game by the book – a tendency in her that I admire greatly – the Prime Minister who does so should light the blue touch-paper and retire.
- Elizabeth Truss: If few of those Tory women are as identifiably of the Party’s Left as Soubry, there are few who are clearly of its Right as Truss. This is a plus for the libertarian-minded Environment Secretary, but she would be well-placed even were she not sharp and capable. She heads the department for disasters ( flood, disease, famine) but has survived it to date. Truss’s mindset fits snugly with the Chancellor’s and this in no way blights her cause. She would be a lively successor to Morgan at Education, a department in which she previously served.
- Greg Clark: The CLG Secretary has clung to his cities and localism brief from his first days in the department through the Treasury and then the Cabinet Office…and all the way back again. His experience working alongside the Chancellor renders him a member of Team Osborne, but Clark is more than, as one insider describes him, “a useful hewer of wood and drawer of water”. He has the ability to prosper at Cabinet level for quite some time yet.
- Stephen Crabb: Crabb is an emerging political figure in his own right as a committed Social Justice Conservative, and increasingly works in tandem with Ruth Davidson, who makes a similar pitch. He would make a fine International Development Secretary, having a long-standing interest in aid. But as the Secretary of State who is helping to mastermind a Tory revival in Wales, Crabb is probably stuck there, sorry, will stay there for the foreseeable future.
- Matthew Hancock: There is more to Hancock than being Osborne’s former Chief of Staff, but the Paymaster-General is very obviously in the Chancellor’s camp. If Osborne takes over at Number 10, Hancock will go up, perhaps to the Business Department in which he formerly served. But he is at risk altogether if someone else takes over.
- Greg Hands: See above. But Hands is more identified with the Centre-Right of the Party, and his grip on the Cabinet table is therefore a little tighter. Osborne’s Chief Whip?
- Mark Harper: Chief Whips tend to prosper, and Harper is likely to do so whoever succeeds the Prime Minister. He would be a personable presence at the Department for Floods, Fire and Famine – or perhaps at Work and Pensions, where he has previously served.
- Jeremy Hunt: As a 2005 Commons entrant, the Health Secretary is not among the younger generation of Cabinet members and is therefore more at risk of dismissal than they are. But he is smooth, bright, thoughtful, a stealth reformer at his department – and is helping slowly to neutralise Labour’s traditional political advantage on the NHS. He remains an outside bet for the leadership. I could imagine him as Osborne’s or Javid’s or May’s or Boris’s or almost anyone else’s Foreign Secretary.
- David Mundell: As the only Conservative MP in Scotland, Mundell is almost a walking definition of Steady State.
- Amber Rudd: Her promotion was big one; she has only one Commons Minister to support her (Andrea Leadsom); her department was infested with Liberal Democrats, a legacy she is striving to cleanse, but she has yet to set out her full plan for it: we will hear more at conference. Like Hancock, she is an Osborne ally, and though very popular indeed with her colleagues is slightly exposed if he does not succeed.
In the departure lounge
- Michael Fallon: The Defence Secretary has a rough old SSDR to get through, but has settled in nicely to the department. He remains one of the Government’s most unflappable performers on the media, and only his Parliamentary age – he first entered the Commons in 1983, losing his original Darlington seat in 1992 and returning for Sevenoaks in 1997 – renders him a candidate for the chop. Talking of his job, he is a good soldier, and would take the bullet without complaint, which only renders him more likely to get it.
- Iain Duncan Smith: The ousted leader turned social justice outsider turned Cabinet Minister has had a long run at Work and Pensions, to which he was an inspired appointment, and is enduringly popular in this site’s monthly survey. But he is presumably in his last years in Cabinet, unless Britain votes to leave the EU, in which case, as the most senior Minister committed to quitting, he would presumably have a case to become…Prime Minister!
- Chris Grayling: The Commons Leader’s desk is cited just outside the Cabinet exit door – figuratively, that is – and Grayling will know that may soon be required to walk through it. If Britain quits the EU, however, he could suddenly find himself catapulted into a senior office of state. It was ConservativeHome that first broke the news that Grayling is firmly for Out, and I expect him to quit Cabinet if necessary to campaign for this position.
- Justine Greening: Greening entered the Commons in 2005, when there were fewer women on the Tory benches. The 2010 and 2015 intakes have tipped the balance of numbers decisively. There are thus more women knocking on the Cabinet door – and, sensitive though Cameron is to promoting more, there is a limit to the number of able men who can be excluded. Furthermore, Greening has views on Heathrow. All this leaves her vulnerable. I wonder if she may come out for Britain leaving the EU.
- Philip Hammond: Cameron is in charge over Syria and Osborne has a big say on the EU renegotiation. This has left the Foreign Secretary without the sweep or clout of his predecessor, William Hague. He entered the Commons in 1997 and his next birthday will be his 60th. He might stay on as Chancellor under the next leader, particularly if someone is needed to steady the ship, but departure from Cabinet is more likely. He has become more Euro-enthusiast in post, an affliction that curses Foreign Secretaries, and now looks unlikely to campaign for Out.
- Oliver Letwin: Letwin came in with Cameron; has done a long, long stint as his man of business, and will surely want a change when the Prime Minister leaves Downing Street. His metamorphosis into Baron Letwin of the Jurassic Coast is thus already under way, though an Osborne premiership might still require his toiling services in Cabinet for a while.
- Patrick McLoughlin: A Minister under John Major, sacked by him, and restored to Government by Cameron – after a long spell in the Whips Office – McLoughlin has seen it all, is appropriately serene, and is long past angst, doubt or fear for the future: “nor steel nor poison,/Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing/Can touch him further”.
- Theresa Villiers. See Justine Greening above. Admittedly, Villiers does not have a track record as an anti-Heathrow campaigner – but she does have one as a convinced Eurosceptic. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see her decide to campaign for an Out vote, even if doing so requires her quitting the top table.
- John Whittingdale: No Conservative MP is better qualified to be Culture Secretary than the present incumbent (with the possible exception of his junior minister, Ed Vaizey). But unless Britain votes to leave the EU, and he himself is prepared to leave the Cabinet to campaign for it to do so, this looks like being his one and only post within it. Margaret Thatcher’s former Political Secretary entered the Commons in 1992, and time waits for no man.
I have included all those entitled to attend Cabinet bar Cameron and Osborne themselves, but omitted two peers, plus the Attorney-General.