Boris Johnson has gone in guns blazing at his first Prime Ministerial performance in the House of Commons today with his usual flamboyance and gusto. But, in addition to that, he has also lost no time in appointing the first Cabinet of his administration and his team in Downing Street.
This level of decisive action may well set the tone for his premiership…
The Johnson Cabinet is larger than his predecessor’s (32 including non-full members with ‘right to attend’). Despite early speculation that he would increase gender diversity in his administration, it has fewer women (22% down from 31%) although the number serving as full members of the Cabinet, rather than just with ‘right to attend’, is up.
However, it is much more ethnically diverse (19%). It is also notably younger, with an average age of 47. It also includes more Leave voters (15 up from 7). Interestingly, it does not include some of the truly hard-core Brexiteers, like Steve Baker, who have a following in the Conservative Party. This may be an emollient wink to the Party’s ‘broad church’ credentials on Brexit (and all other matters) despite the notable Leave set of appointments.
Old and new
Johnson’s team includes a number of re-treads who were sacked or had to resign for various misdemeanours or underperformance, in the form of Priti Patel, Grant Shapps, Gavin Williamson, Nicky Morgan and Theresa Villiers. This is alongside new blood such as the Housing and Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick, Alok Sharma at International Development, and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Rishi Sunak.
The prominent and long-time Boris supporter Ben Wallace is rewarded with the prestigious role of Defence Secretary. Crucially, all in the Cabinet, whether Leave or Remain voters, are signed up to Johnson’s position to deliver Brexit by 31st October. The requirement to support this, and a No Deal option, was a clear policy principle to enter a Boris Johnson Cabinet. The hard nature of this requirement ostensibly led Philip Hammond to resign as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Support staff and advisers
There has been comment in some parts of the media that Johnson’s Downing Street staff seem more of a campaign team than a unit designed to govern. There is arguably a ring of truth in that. As a mixture of his previous team from City Hall and the campaign staff from Vote Leave, there is a feel that they are there to deliver a period of short, sharp transition. It is speculated that this is with an eye to an Autumn snap General Election, whether it be proactively called by the new PM or forced through a vote of no confidence. Both possibilities are currently not unthinkable. For years to come, occupants of Downing Street will carefully study the decisions of Theresa May and Gordon Brown on whether or not to trigger an election when things look most advantageous.
Certainly, the choice of Dominic Cummings as a senior advisor at Number 10 suggests a short-term approach as history shows he will have fallen out with all the other key players if he stays beyond six months. His combative style does not suit collegiate working relationships with longevity. Also, if he was being appointed with long-term reform in mind, it is most likely he would have been sent to operate out of the Cabinet Office along with Michael Gove, his old boss.
Flavour of the Cabinet
All in all, the new Cabinet seems very pro-business, obviously pro-Brexit and largely libertarian in outlook. Despite Johnson’s claims of being a ‘One Nation Tory’, the right-wing of the Conservative Party appears to be back (you need only look to the appointment of Jacob Rees-Mogg as Leader of the House to see that). The appointments are designed to deliver the new PM’s ‘energising’ policy agenda, whatever that may prove to be. Johnson’s message in the House today was to position the Conservatives as a party of optimism and anyone else who attacks it as pessimists. This is a clever narrative because attacking optimists is, by its very nature, likely to be negative and pessimistic.
The rapid appointment of the whole Cabinet in one evening surprised many commentators but that slick operation is likely to be continued over the summer. We can expect a spate of announcements designed to show change from the stuck-in-the-mud previous administration, demonstrate to the country that issues other than Brexit are being addressed, but also stick to the promise of Brexit by 31st October, with or without a deal..
Team Johnson will see delivery of all above as a solid foundation upon which they can fight and win a General Election, which could be much sooner than we think…
Picture credit: The Spectator