Johnny Mercer is touted as a future Conservative leader by the Daily Telegraph today. His name has also come up with regard to Ministerial promotion, perhaps to the Cabinet, along with others who aren’t Ministers at all – such as James Cleverly and Tom Tugendhat.
Reshuffles are unpredictable by nature, but we wonder whether observers are looking in the right place. Most promotions to Cabinet come from the ranks of the Ministers of State, the next rank down, and Theresa May tends to be orderly in her promotions to the top table.
Karen Bradley was an Under-Secretary when she was elevated, and Damian Green was a backbencher when appointed to Work and Pensions, but these were exceptions to the usual form. So the best place to look for the next tranche is Cabinet members is among those Ministers of State.
These are: Mel Stride, Nick Hurd, Robert Goodwill, Ben Wallace, Rory Stewart, Alan Duncan, Mark Field, Alistair Burt, Mark Lancaster, Dominic Raab, Jo Johnson, Nick Gibb, Anne Milton, Greg Hands, Claire Perry, Philip Dunne, Damian Hinds, Sarah Newton, John Hayes, George Eustice, Matt Hancock and Alok Sharma.
Some of these are unlikely to make Cabinet simply on grounds of age and intake. For example, Burt is 62, and was first elected to the Commons in 1983. Others are specialists in their field – such as Nick Gibb, who has devoted much of his political career to improving schools.
Others still are not utility players. Stewart, for example, could perfectly well at serve at International Development, one of the two departments at which he presently works as a Minister, or even at the other one – the Foreign Office. Or at Defence: he is a former Defence Select Committee Chairman. But he is essentially an international affairs specialist, though he could also go to Environment.
However, all four of these posts are filled at present, and none are likely soon to become vacant (despite the campaign to turf out Boris Johnson). The most plausible candidates for promotion are may be less distinguished than the brilliant author, but are the sort of serviceable politicians who prosper under any leadership.
Of the three women, Milton is 62 (though age is not necessarily a bar; the Prime Minister herself is a year younger), Newton has only just been appointed, and Perry was very much a protege of George Osborne, which may not help her cause. May might look for women the next rank down, though Newton could well make Cabinet in due course. Esther McVey, now Deputy Chief Whip, is in the same category.
Of the men, a rough guess would be that those most likely to be promoted sooner rather than later include Stride, Raab, Hinds (pictured right), Sharma and perhaps Hands, who has been in Cabinet before. Up and coming MPs tend to divide into two types. There are those who are highly visible, like swans on a summer river.
Then there are those who paddle away beneath the water with the invisibility of swans’ feet – diligently, effectively, and without attracting too much attention. They always make up the bulk of appointments, and next time round will be no different.