Theresa May didn’t expect to have to appoint her Cabinet until after September 9th. Instead, she has to start the process on Wednesday afternoon. It won’t be an easy task. All prime ministers seek to appoint a balanced Cabinet, but previous Prime Ministers didn’t have the Leave v Remain dilemma. She knows if she doesn’t get this right, she will get off to a very dodgy start. But in reality, her Cabinet is unlikely to have a 50-50 split of Leavers and Remainers. The numbers just do not add up. All eyes will be on who she appoints to the main roles, by which I mean Chancellor, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chief EU Negotiator.
I hope and expect that Theresa May will get rid of all the Cabinet hangers on, by which I mean that myriad of ministers who are not full members of the Cabinet, but have the right to attend. Tony Blair started to appoint ministers in this way in order to placate their ambitions. David Cameron sadly continued to do so. Theresa May will get plaudits if she ends the practice.
In the current Cabinet I’d expect several ministers to either voluntarily lay down their portfolios or be asked to do so. Some, like Patrick McLoughlin, may well think they’ve had a good innings, while others such as Michael Gove may be required to depart the scene. It all depends how radical a carve-up Theresa May wants to have. She should remember that prime ministers are never more powerful than in their first hundred days. Stamp your own mark on your government as you may not get the chance to do so again.
So let’s look at the current Cabinet and speculate as to who might stay, will definitely stay or who might go…
Will Definitely Stay in the Cabinet
Might Well Stay
Might Well Leave the Cabinet
There are six other Ministers of State who have the right to attend Cabinet. They are Baroness Anelay, Robert Halfon, Anna Soubry, Priti Patel, Greg Hands, Matthew Hancock and the Attorney General Jeremy Wright. I expect Priti Patel to be the only one of this bunch to be promoted to the full Cabinet. I also think that Jeremy Wright might be replaced by Dominic Grieve.
It is likely that Theresa May will wish to reward some of her campaign team, Damian Green being the most obvious example. She is said to think highly of Immigration Minister James Brokenshire. He is even being tipped to replace her as Home Secretary. His main downside is that he is yet another Remainer.
And then there’s the Boris issue. This is perhaps her most difficult call. What job do you give the man who only ten days ago assumed he’d be the one doling out the jobs himself? Too junior a job and he may say no, and yet surely he needs to prove himself in a middle ranking job before he can expect to be promoted to one of the major offices of state. Local Government & Communities might seem a good fit.
The other issue is who to put in charge of the EU negotiations. At the moment it would be a Cabinet Office job, but I hope Theresa May decides to split out trade from Business, Innovation & Skills, and also puts universities back where it belongs, under the remit of the Education Secretary. It’s possible she might even abolish Culture, Media & Sport and put it all into Business. Chris Grayling is spoken of as the front runner for the EU Negotiation position, but don’t rule out Peter Lilley, Liam Fox or David Davis. Indeed, I think one if not both of them may well be in her Cabinet assuming she thinks she can trust either of them.
I also wonder whether she might promote Tracey Crouch to the Cabinet at DCMS (wishful thinking on my part, maybe) and possibly also bring back Maria Miller and/or Caroline Spelman. If she did all three she’d get very close to a 50-50 men/women split!
So, how about this for Theresa May’s first Cabinet?
Prime Minister: Theresa May
Chancellor: Philip Hammond
Foreign Secretary: David Davis or Liam Fox
Chief Secretary: Andrea Leadsom
Home Secretary: Jeremy Hunt
Cabinet Office/EU: Chris Grayling
Party Chairman: Justine Greening
Business: Sajid Javid
Justice: Greg Clark
Transport: Brandon Lewis
Education: Nicky Morgan
Health: Mark Harper
Scotland: David Mundell
Wales: Alun Cairns
Northern Ireland: Theresa Villiers
Chief Whip Damian Green
Defence: Boris Johnson
Work & Pensions: Stephen Crabb
Leader of the House of Commons Sir Alan Duncan
International Development Priti Patel
Culture, Media & Sport: James Brokenshire
Local Government & Communities: Maria Miller
Attorney General: Dominic Grieve
DECC: Amber Rudd
DEFRA: Liz Truss
Leader of the House of Lords: Baroness Stowell
That’s 26 people around the Cabinet table but only 6 of them Leavers. Even if Michael Gove is retained and both David Davis and Liam Fox are included that would only give a balance of 18-8. Hardly a balance. The problem is that if you look down the list of Ministers of State and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State there are very few Leave supporters, and of them, there are not many you’d put into the Cabinet.
Last time there was a Cabinet reshuffle I got 14 out of 20 appointments right, rather better than anyone else. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, so I suspect I won’t repeat that. But you can see how difficult it will be for Theresa May to balance her government right from the off.