An idea is occasionally worth testing with the panel to see where it gets to.  Here’s an example.

Tim Montgomerie recently tweeted that –

  • Ministers are appointed on the basis of compliance, not talent;
  • “An A-team of Brexiteers and Remainers is needed to steer UK away from the rocks” (though not immediately). “Tick-tock, tick-tock! Act soon Boris!”
  • I’ve rarely had so much feedback from Tory MPs to a Tweet but my concern at the >>unnecessary<< weakness of the Government frontbench and of the Number Ten operation seems to be widely shared…

So what’s our panel members’ view of the Cabinet?  We asked –

  • Whether they believe that it is of sufficient quality to govern adequately at the least, and is fit for purpose.
  • Which Conservative MPs who aren’t in the Cabinet they’d like to see appointed to it.

So, in order:

  • 81 per cent of respondents, some four in five, think the Cabinet is adequate at least, and basically fit for purpose – not a high bar, you may think.

Which brings us to which Tory MPs panel members would like to see promoted to the top table.

There were two potential ways of asking for names.

  • Presenting a list of our own and asking members to select from it, which would have left us open to the accusation of puffing our favourites.
  • Letting members decide for themselves, which would incur the charge of name recall – i.e: that respondents are simply citing the MPs they remember.

The second route seemed to us to be the lesser of two evils.  At any rate, here are the top ten Conservative MPs favoured in replies as first choice for a Cabinet seat.

  • Jeremy Hunt – 91 votes.
  • Steve Baker – 66.
  • John Redwood – 55.
  • Iain Duncan Smith – 49.
  • Penny Mordaunt – 37.
  • Tom Tugendhat – 30.
  • Johnny Mercer – 25.
  • Sajid Javid – 22.
  • David Davis – 16
  • Owen Paterson – 13.

If we knocked out from the bottom of our last Cabinet League Table, excluding the three territorial Ministers, these would replace:

  • Amanda Milling.
  • Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
  • Oliver Dowden.
  • Mark Spencer.
  • Therese Coffey.
  • Gavin Williamson.
  • Alok Sharma.
  • George Eustice.
  • Ben Wallace.
  • Robert Buckland.

There now follows a disparate series of points, some of which favour Tim’s thesis, and others which don’t.

  • Cards on the table.  Our own take is that Tim is right to argue that compliance was a significant factor in appointments in January’s shuffle.  To take just one example: the real Party Chairman is Ben Elliot, who is the Andrew Feldman tradition of being an extension of the Party leader, rather than a Ken Baker or Chris Patten or Eric Pickles figure, who is of independent standing.
  • But if panel members think this is true, most don’t seem to be bothered.  Perhaps the Union Jack Effect explains the rallying-round represented by that four in five margin of support.  Or maybe they’re simply content – because the after-effects of that near-landslide in December haven’t worn off yet, despite the Coronavirus.
  • We’ll publish our monthly Cabinet League Table later this week, and don’t want to reveal the results now.  But without giving any great secrets away we can say that there’s little evidence of dissatisfaction, particularly with Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel, Michael Gove, Matt Hancock and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
  • And look at the number of votes cast for prospective members.  Jeremy Hunt, who came top of the poll, won 91 votes.  That’s out of 869 replies.  From a total of 1274 survey returns.  Which means 405 respondents didn’t think the question was worth answering.  We think that the Cabinet would be stronger for having Hunt in it, but 91 votes out of 1274 returns isn’t a large share.  Some of the lower ones barely scrape double figures.
  • Were the ten names put up by our panel members appointed to the top table, and the ten people we identify removed, the Cabinet would be greyer, older, more experienced, more male and arguably more right-wing.  The panel has a preference for military men – or at least men associated with the military – and a single military-style woman: Mordaunt.
  • Either our panel members are unwilling to recognise the merits of female Tory MPs, or those that they might name for promotion simply aren’t up to the job.  Which is it: an unyielding prejudice problem among some party members, or a persistent “pipeline problem” in finding suitable Conservative women? Which just won’t go away – the former or the latter?
  • Tim’s original tweet was sparked by one from Andrew Neil, which itself was provoked by Piers Morgan monstering Victoria Atkins on GMTV.  But should the ability of Ministers to cope with showbusiness interviewers be the test of their capacity?  Is thinking so a bit of a Westminster Village Test?  Or is standing up to an aggressive interviewer essential?
  • Crises tend either to kill Ministers or make them stronger.  Matt Hancock began this one as a relatively inexperienced Cabinet member, whose only previous experience round the top table was at Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – a relative backwater.  By the time the Coronavirus abates he will have been through a governing experience almost as intense as any in wartime.  The same will apply to less public-facing Ministers, such as Alok Sharma.