Conventional Cabinet-forming means representing as wide a Party spectrum as possible, and sending Ministers to departments that they will hopefully run for several years.
The unique circumstances that Boris Johnson will face in a month or so, if as expected he wins this Conservative leadership election, require tearing up that usual wisdom – and taking risks.
No Deal is not Johnson’s preferred option (nor should it be). But we will all know whether he is prepared ultimately to lead Britain out of the EU without a deal and honour the referendum result by the Cabinet that he appoints.
It must be one whose members are all signed up to No Deal if necessary, and an election if Parliament prevents Brexit on October 31.
For a Prime Minister Johnson will not be able to afford Cabinet splits, resignations, noises off – or election campaign rows.
Sure, he will, in effect, have no Commons majority: but that problem will not be solved by forming a Cabinet of anti-No-Dealers-at-any-cost as well as of No Dealers-in-the-last-resort. That way lies the fate of Theresa May.
Instead, he must throw the dice. His Government must push for No Deal if necessary. Or for an election on a No Deal manifesto if his Government is no confidenced while seeking to deliver it.
If an election is forced on the Conservatives without Brexit having been delivered, only the most strenuous effort to push it through the Commons, without a deal if necessary, stands a chance of warding off Nigel Farage.
It follows that Johnson must be ruthless – and move as fast as possible while the authority of his expected leadership win is fresh. Out must go Philip Hammond, Greg Clark, David Gauke plus, it seems, Rory Stewart, and others.
It seems unlikely that Amber Rudd’s affection for Johnson will overcome her anti-No Deal convictions. So be it. The diciest, most difficult task of all will be squaring Ruth Davidson and Scotland’s Conservatives.
Here is the kind of shuffle that he should now start to plan. It is drawn up to meet three non-negotiable requirements.
First, its members must be prepared to sign up to a Johnson policy of Brexiting on October 31.
Second, it should, within that parameter, be drawn as widely as possible from across the Party.
Third, its members will ideally have some experience of the department to which they will be sent.
Finally, they should also be chosen with an eye to presentation skills during an election campaign.
We suggest roughly as follows.
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Deputy Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster: Jeremy Hunt.
The expected runner-up must be bound in completely to the Johnson administration. The new Prime Minister should delegate much of the day-to-day running of the Government to him. Hunt will be reluctant to leave the Foreign Office, but could not refuse the promotion, unless he is determined to resist the October 31 deadline.
Brexit Secretary: Dominic Raab.
The EU must be sent the clearest possible signal that Britain intends to leave the EU at the end of October. There could be none less ambiguous than sending Raab back to his old job. That he knows the department is another advantage.
Chancellor of the Exchequer: Sajid Javid.
The present Home Secretary is committed to that October 31 deadline, can be relied upon to swing the Treasury behind No Deal preparation, is economically literate, and in an election campaign would be an aspiration icon as well as an attack dog.
Foreign Secretary: Liam Fox.
The International Trade Secretary isn’t a Johnson fan, but he voted against the extension of Article 50, is a very experienced Minister…and not at all someone you’d want loose on the back benches in current circumstances. He could hold the fort in the Foreign Office during an election’s duration.
Home Secretary: Penny Mordaunt.
The doctrine is that a woman must hold a great office of state, and it justifies moving Mordaunt out of defence, and promoting her. Though a Hunt supporter during this contest, she opposed extension in the Commons lobbies, and was part of the 2016 Vote Leave team. She is well placed to strike the right balance on immigration policy.
Defence Secretary: Michael Gove.
There is a strong case for sending him to the Foreign Office, to try to help heal the wounds of this contest. But defence will be an important element of any election campaign, and Gove could be relied upon to make the most of it. He may have no experience of the department, but he has certainly pondered the role.
Business Secretary: Liz Truss.
The Chief Secretary is naturally combative, gutsy and a reformer.. She would therefore be a risky fit in an outward-facing, voter-sensitive department such as education – at least during an election. But as a critic of the Business Department, she would run it will an exacting eye, and treat the corporate lobbies with a healthy scepticism.
Justice Secretary: Robert Buckland.
The Prisons Minister is, in Tory terms, well left-of-centre – a stalwart of the Tory Reform Group. He is also capable, a Johnson backer, and a realist. Geoffrey Cox should go to the Justice Ministry soon, but is needed for continuity in the Brexit talks. Buckland, a lawyer and former Minister in the department, will do very nicely in the meantime.
Trade Secretary: Greg Hands.
It may be that Government policy on Heathrow would prevent Hands’ return, but he was a Minister of State in the department, understands trade policy, and is one of the Party’s best-briefed opponents of a customs union, against which he has written frequently on this site.
Health Secretary: Matt Hancock.
He is running the department with an absence of fuss, has avoided NHS disputes, understands the relationship between technology and healthcare, brings enthusiasm to everything he does – and has therefore written the case, despite his Treasury ambitions and leadership campaign, for staying exactly where he is.
Education Secretary: Damian Hinds.
It is very tempting to give a new policy (showering the department with money) a new face. The itch should be resisted. In an election campaign, it is best to have someone in place who understands the department and the issues – and who can present calmly and clearly, as Hinds does.
Work and Pensions Secretary: Alok Sharma.
The Work and Pensions Minister knows his way round the department as a senior Minister in it, is a Johnson backer in this contest, and has been unlucky not to make it to the top table before. If Rudd won’t serve or is too risky an appointment, Sharma would slot straight in.
Environment Secretary: George Eustice.
Like Ed Vaizey (never appointed Culture Secretary) or Nick Gibb (never appointed Education Secretary), Eustice is one of the club of Ministers-Or-Former-Ministers-Who-Know-Their-Subject. An honourable and prescient resigner over Brexit policy, he is well-known to the farming lobby and would be all over No Deal preparations.
Housing Secretary: Kit Malthouse.
Now purged, at least for a while, of his own leadership ambitions, Malthouse served under Johnson during the latter’s Mayoral period. He understands the brief, is in place at the department, and would offer, as he would put it, “a fresh face”. Bring the Malthouse Compromise into the Cabinet.
Culture Secretary: Nicky Morgan.
Talking of Malthouse, let’s reinvent Morgan. Our columnist is the ultimate Good Egg, having both a strong sense of Party unity and a willingness in extremis to back a No Deal plan. We don’t want to lose her, but she would be a more-than-useful ambassador from Johnson to the Party’s centre-left.
Northern Ireland Secretary: Theresa Villiers.
This is one of the most daunting appointments of all, given the challenge of dealing with Ireland’s Government. Villiers is a Brexiteer who understands Northern Ireland, having served there as Secretary of State, and knows the players. If anyone can square conviction, knowledge and diplomacy, it is Villiers.
Transport Secretary: Gavin Willamson.
Johnson has little choice but to return to Cabinet the man who has successfully managed the whipping of the first stage of this leadership campaign. It is a very fine judgement as to whether to send him back to head up the Whips’ Office. On balance, we think it best he be given a department of his own that he will run with enthusiasm.
International Development Secretary: Priti Patel.
The new Prime Minister will need supporters in Cabinet, and people who are committed to Brexit. Patel fits both categories. She understands the department, grasps the need for aid money to be spent wisely, and would slot in neatly back there.
Scotland Secretary: David Mundell.
This is arguably the most crucial appointment of all. No Deal, or a No Deal election, presents particular challenges in Scotland. Johnson’s support among Tory Scottish MPs has been minimal in the Parliamentary stage of this contest, and he should must be prepared to give the experienced Mundell as much leeway as possible.
Wales Secretary: Alun Cairns.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Party Chairman: James Cleverly.
Cleverly radiates a sense of confidence rare among top-flight politicians, understands social media, is calm on TV, has CCHQ experience, and is itching to do the job. Now that his own leadership campaigning has calmed down, he can be expected to work well with Lynton Crosby, who will surely return.
Leader of the Lords: Natalie Evans.
Again, if it ain’t broke, etc.
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Entitled to attend –
Leader of the Commons: Andrea Leadsom
Continuity knocks. Leadsom has blossomed as Leader of the House. There’s no reason to move her.
Chief Whip: Steve Barclay
This is a hard call, and there are arguments for sending for Williamson, or taking a quite different tack and approaching Graham Brady. Barclay is a Leaver and an ex-Whip – at one point the only Brexiteer in the office. He is calm, methodical, well-liked…and was a Johnson voter this week.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury: Julian Smith
Never sack a former Chief Whip.
Brexit Minister of State: Steve Baker
Johnson should cut the number of Ministers entitled to attend Cabinet, but he could do a lot worse than put Baker, under Raab, back in his old department in charge of No Deal preparations, and allow him to contribute when Brexit policy is being discussed.
Attorney-General: Geoffrey Cox
See “Justice Secretary”.
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So that’s –
23 full Cabinet Ministers, as now (including Johnson).
Six women full Cabinet members. There are five now.
Three visible ethnic minority members. There is one now.
Eight original Johnson voters in this contest plus four people who switched to back him.
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There are a mass of Ministers and others who would need care and attention. With no majority, Ministers leaving through the exit door, Team Johnson members queueing at the entrance, other Ministers champing at the bit for promotion and other leadership candidates’ backers to keep quiet, this will be the devil of a shuffle to manage.