Almost immediately after her ascent to Downing Street, Theresa May began a sweeping reshuffle. Now that her new cabinet has become clear, it is worth looking into the implications of these changes.
Reconciliation on political lines, particularly those drawn around the EU, has been prominent. A Brexiteer, Boris Johnson, was appointed Foreign Secretary – one of the three great offices of state – although many of his responsibilities have been carved off and given to veteran Eurosceptics: Liam Fox in International Trade and David Davis in Exiting the EU. Boris’ appointment ensures he won’t be making trouble on the backbenches and gives him ample reason to be loyal, and with his popularity among the grassroots that loyalty is worth a great deal. Whether it is practical remains to be seen; given the erudition lurking behind Boris’ façade, it may well be.
In another reconciliatory move, Andrea Leadsom, May’s opponent in the leadership contest, has been handed the reins of DEFRA, where it will notably be her duty to safeguard British agriculture. Chris Grayling in Transport, Priti Patel in International Development and Baroness Evans leading the Lords are also all Leavers, giving May 7 Leavers and 14 Remainers in cabinet, while Cameron had that ratio at 4 to 18.
The proportion of women on cabinet has gone from 32% to 35% and many of the most important roles are held by women. Prominently, Osborne allies Amber Rudd and Liz Truss in Home and Justice, state-educated Justine Greening in Education, and Karen Bradley in Culture. Another notable feature of the cabinet is that less than half of those on it attended Oxbridge, while almost two-thirds had under Cameron.
It’s also worth noting that several Tory heavyweights are out, most prominently George Osborne, Stephen Crabb and Michael Gove, along with Gove backers Nicky Morgan and John Whittingdale. Of those, all except Whittingdale had leadership ambitions. Crabb was a rising star, but his sex scandal left him vulnerable. The remnants of the Notting Hill set, Gove was famously frosty with May, and Osborne was a symbol of the old order. Their removal, then, represents a purge of May’s rivals, a lack of personal reconciliation, and a sharp break with Cameronism.
May’s allies fill may of the prominent positions. Phillip Hammond has been made Chancellor, and signalled that he will dilute austerity, focussing on immediate economic stability. Reputed as dry in both senses of the word, Hammond will likely prove a steady pair of hands. Other allies of Theresa May, including MPs such as James Brokenshire and Special Advisors like Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill (nee Cunningham) have also been brought on board. With Heseltine fan Greg Clark heading the new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, a rationalisation of BIS and DECC as well, it is clear that a different path is being sought. What exactly that path will entail will be revealed in full as legislation. One thing it certainly won’t be is continuity Cameron; with more ministers sent back from the frontbench than MPs in the Conservative majority, this is truly May’s cabinet.